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"the greatest political interviewer 
of modern times”-Romng stone 






Interview with history 
D 412.6 .F3313.1_ 35858 

Fallaci, Oriana. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2010 



Books by Oriana Fallaci 





Oriana Fallaci 

Translated by John Shepley 


Translation Copyright © 1976 
by Liveright Publishing Corporation 

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be repro¬ 
duced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic 
or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or 
by any information storage or retrieval system, without 
permission in writing from the publisher. 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Fallaci, Oriana. 

Interview with history. 

Translation of Intervista con la storia. 

Reprint of the ed. published by Liveright, New York. 
1. Statesmen—Interviews. I. Title. 

[D412.6.F3313 1977] 920'.02 76-50930 

ISBN 0-395-25223-7 

Printed in the United States of America 

v 10 9876543 

To my mother 
and to all those 
who do not like power 


Preface 9 

1. Henry Kissinger 17 

2. Nguyen Van Thieu 45 

3. General Giap 74 

4. Golda Meir 88 

5. Yasir Arafat 123 

6. Hussein of Jordan 140 

7. Indira Gandhi 152 

8. Ali Bhutto 182 

9. Willy Brandt 210 

10. Pietro Nenni 235 

11. Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 262 

12. Helder Camara 288 

13. Archbishop Makarios 310 

14. Alexandras Panagoulis 332 


This book does not claim to be anything but what it is: I mean a 
direct witness to fourteen political figures of contemporary history. 
It does not want to promise anything more than it claims, I mean a 
document straddling journalism and history. Yet it also doesn’t 
want to be considered as a simple collection of interviews for stu¬ 
dents of power and antipower. I do not feel myself to be, nor will I 
ever succeed in feeling like, a cold recorder of what I see and hear. 
On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and 
soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter 
concerned me personally and w'ere one on which I ought to take a 
stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice). 
So I did not go to these fourteen people with the detachment of 
the anatomist or the imperturbable reporter. I went with a thousand 
feelings of rage, a thousand questions that before assailing them 
were assailing me, and with the hope of understanding in what 
way, by being in power or opposing it, those people determine our 
destiny. For example: is history made by everyone or by a few? 
Does it depend on universal law's or on a few individuals and 
nothing else? 

It is an old dilemma, I know, which no one has resolved and no 
one will ever resolve. It is also an old trap in which it is very dan¬ 
gerous to fall, since any answer carries within itself its own contra¬ 
diction. It is not by chance that many try to compromise and main- 




tain that history is made by everyone and by a few, that the few 
emerge as leaders because they were born at the right moment and 
are able to interpret that moment. Perhaps. But those who do not 
delude themselves about the absurd tragedy of life are led rather to 
follow Pascal when he says that if Cleopatra's nose had been shorter 
the whole aspect of the world would have been changed; they are 
led rather to fear what Bertrand Russell feared when he wrote, 
“Whether the populations of the world are to live or die rests with* 
the decisions of Khrushchev, Mao Tse-tung and Mr. John Foster 
Dulles, not with ordinary mortals like ourselves. If they say ‘Die', 
we shall die. If they say ‘live', we shall live." * I cannot say he is 
wrong. In short, I cannot exclude the idea that our existence is 
decided by a few people, by their dreams and caprices, their initia¬ 
tive and will. Those few who through ideas, discoveries, revolu¬ 
tions, wars, or some quite simple gesture—the killing of a tyrant— 
change the course of events and the destiny of the majority. 

Surely this is an atrocious hypothesis. It also is an offensive 
thought, for in that case what do we become? Impotent herds in 
the hands of now a noble shepherd, now an infamous one? Mere 
objects at hand, leaves blowing in the wind? And to deny this, you 
may even embrace some Marxist thesis by which everything is re¬ 
solved by the class struggle: history-is-made-by-peoples-through- 
the-class-struggle. But you soon realize that everyday reality belies 
those Marxists, you soon object that without Marx Marxism 
would not exist (no one can demonstrate that if Marx had never 
been bom or had not written Das Kapital , John Doe or Richard 
Roe would have written it). And discouraged, you conclude that 
those who make one turn instead of another are few, those who 
make us take one road instead of another are few, those who bring 
forth ideas, discoveries, revolutions, wars, and kill tyrants are few. 
Still more discouraged, you ask what those few are like: more in¬ 
telligent than ourselves, stronger, more enlightened, more en¬ 
terprising? Or individuals like ourselves, neither better nor worse, 
ordinary creatures who do not deserve our anger, our admiration, 
or our envy? 

The question extends to the past, even a remote past of which we 

* Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory and Other Essays (London: George Allen 
& Unwin, 1956). 



know only what they have prescribed so that we would learn it 
obediently in school. Who is there to say that they did not teach us 
lies in school? Who can give us indisputable proof of the good faith 
of Xerxes, Julius Caesar, or Spartacus? We know everything about 
their battles and nothing about their human dimension, about their 
weaknesses and lies, about their intellectual and moral wavering. 
We have no evidence to show that Vercingetorix was a scoundrel. 
We do not even know whether Jesus Christ was tall or short, light 
or dark, educated or simple, whether he went to bed or not with 
Mary Magdalen, whether he really said the things that Matthew, 
Mark, Luke, and John assert. Ah, if only someone had interviewed 
him with a tape recorder so as to capture his voice, his ideas, his 
words! Ah, if only someone had taken down in shorthand what 
Joan of Arc declared at her trial before going to the stake! Ah, if 
only someone had questioned Cromwell and Napoleon in front of 
a movie camera! I do not trust news handed down by word of 
mouth, reports drawn up too late and that cannot be proved. Yes¬ 
terday's history is a novel full of events that I cannot check, judg¬ 
ments that I cannot contest. 

Not today's history. Because today's history is written the very 
moment it happens. It can be photographed, filmed, recorded on 
tape in interviews with the few people who control the world or 
change its course. It can be transmitted immediately through the 
press, radio, television. It can be interpreted, heatedly discussed. 
For this reason I like journalism. For this reason I fear journalism. 
What other profession allows you to write history at the very mo¬ 
ment it happens and also to be its direct witness? Journalism is an 
extraordinary and terrible privilege. Not by chance, if you are 
aware of it, does it consume you with a hundred feelings of inade¬ 
quacy. Not by chance, when 1 find myself going through an event 
or an important encounter, does it seize me like anguish, a fear of 
not having enough eyes and enough ears and enough brains to look 
and listen and understand like a worm hidden in the wood of his¬ 
tory. I do not exaggerate, you see, when I say that on every profes¬ 
sional experience I leave some of my soul. And it is not easy for me 
to say, Oh, come now, there’s no need to be Herodotus; for better 
or worse you’ll contribute a little stone to help compose the mosaic; 
you’ll provide information to help make people think. And if you 
make a mistake, never mind. 



The present book was born in this way, in the span of four 
years, those in which I did the fourteen interviews for my 
paper, L’Europeo. To the subjects here lined up, in short, 1 went in 
this spirit: each time seeking, together with information, an answer 
to the question of how they are different from ourselves. To meet 
them was often an exhausting chore. My request for an appoint¬ 
ment was almost always met by cold silence or a refusal (the four¬ 
teen in the book are not the only ones I tried to meet), and if later 
they answered yes, I had to wait months for them to grant me an 
hour or half hour. 

When I was finally in their presence, I had to exert myself to 
keep them for longer than an hour or half hour. Once there, how¬ 
ever, it became a game to reach the truth and discover that not 
even a selective criterion justified their power. Those who deter¬ 
mine our destiny are not really better than ourselves; they are nei¬ 
ther more intelligent nor stronger nor more enlightened than our¬ 
selves. If anything, they are more enterprising, more ambitious. 
Only in the rarest cases did I have the certainty of finding myself 
face to face with a person born to lead us or to make us take one 
road instead of another. But these cases involved men who were 
not themselves in power; in fact they had fought it, and fought it at 
the risk of their own lives. As for those whom I liked or who 
charmed me in some way, the moment has come to confess that 
my mind remained reserved and my heart dissatisfied. Deep down I 
was sorry that they were sitting at the top of the pyramid. Since I 
was unable to believe them as I would have liked, I could not judge 
them innocent. So much the less as traveling companions. 

Perhaps it is because I do not understand power, the mechanism 
by which men or women feel themselves invested or become in¬ 
vested with the right to rule over others and punish them if they do 
not obey. Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected 
president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see 
power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon. I may be mistaken 
but the earthly paradise did not end on the day that Adam and Eve 
were told by God that from now on they would work by the sweat 
of their brows and bring forth children in sorrow. It ended on the 
day that they realized that they had a master who tried to keep 
them from eating an apple, and, driven out over an apple, placed 
themselves at the head of a tribe where it was even forbidden to eat 



pork. Of course, to live in a group requires a governing authority; 
otherwise there is chaos. But the most tragic side of the human 
condition seems to me precisely that of needing an authority to 
govern, a chief. One can never know where a chief’s power begins 
and ends; the only sure thing is that you cannot control him and 
that he kills your freedom. Worse: he is the bitterest demonstration 
that absolute freedom does not exist, has never existed, cannot 
exist. Even if it is necessary to behave as though it existed and to 
look for it. Whatever the price. 

I feel I should warn the reader how much I am convinced of 
this, and also that apples are born to be picked, that meat can even 
be eaten on Friday. Still more to remind him or her that, to the 
same degree that I do not understand power, I do understand those 
who oppose power, who criticize power, who contest power, espe¬ 
cially those who rebel against power imposed by brutality. I have 
always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only 
way to use the miracle of having been born. I have always looked 
on the silence of those who do not react or who indeed applaud as 
the real death of a woman or a man. And listen: for me the most 
beautiful monument to human dignity is still the one I saw on a 
hill in the Peloponnesus. It was not a statue, it was not a flag, but 
three letters that in Greek signify No: oxi. Men thirsting for free¬ 
dom had written them among the trees during the Nazi-Fascist oc¬ 
cupation, and for thirty years that No had remained there, unfaded 
by the sun or rain. Then the colonels had obliterated it with a 
stroke of whitewash. But immediately, almost magically, the sun 
and rain had dissolved the whitewash. So that day by day the three 
letters reappeared on the surface, stubborn, desperate, indelible. 

Truly, then, this book does not claim to be anything but what it 
is. It does not want to promise anything more than it claims, that 
is, a direct testimony by fourteen political figures of contemporary 
history, each with his or her symbolic meaning and alignment in a 
symbolic sequence. (Because of this, I did not want to bring any in¬ 
terview up to date, not even the older ones, nor to re-elaborate 
them, thereby spoiling their value as documents that crystallized 
the moments they were recorded. I wanted to leave them intact in 
their genuineness, without worrying over the fact that Golda Meir 
is no longer prime minister, Willy Brandt no longer chancellor, 
I hieu no longer dictator of South Vietnam, and Alexandros 



Panagoulis no longer a persecuted hero of the Resistance to the 
Greek colonels. But while reading it, you should keep in mind that 
No that reappears, stubborn, desperate, indelible, among the trees 
on a hill in the Peloponnesus. 




Henry Kissinger 

This too famous, too important, too lucky man, whom they call 
Superman, Superstar, Superkraut, and who stitches together para¬ 
doxical alliances, reaches impossible agreements, keeps the world 
holding its breath as though the world were his students at Harvard. 
This incredible, inexplicable, unbearable personage, who meets 
Mao Tse-tung when he likes, enters the Kremlin when he feels like 
it, wakens the president of the United States and goes into his bed¬ 
room when he thinks it appropriate. This absurd character with 
horn-rimmed glasses, beside whom James Bond becomes a fla¬ 
vorless creation. He does not shoot, nor use his fists, nor leap from 
speeding automobiles like James Bond, but he advises on w’ars, 
ends wars, pretends to change our destiny, and does change it. But 
still, who is Henry Kissinger? 

Books are written about him as about those great figures whom 
history has by now digested. Books like the ones illustrating his po¬ 
litical and cultural background, written by admiring university col¬ 
leagues, or like the one celebrating his talents as a seducer written 
by a French newspaperwoman with an unrequited passion. With 
his university colleagues he never cared to speak. With the French 
newspaperwoman lie never cared to make love. He alludes to them 
all with a vexed grimace and dismisses them with a scornful wave 
of his plump hand. “They understand nothing,” “None of w hat she 
says is true.” 




The story of his life is the object of research bordering on a cult, 
simultaneously paradoxical and grotesque, so everyone knows that 
he was born in Furth, Germany, in 1923, son of Louis Kissinger, a 
high-school teacher, and Paula Kissinger, a housewife. Everyone 
knows that his family is Jewish, that fourteen of his relatives died in 
the concentration camps, that together with his father and mother 
and his brother Walter he fled in 1938 to London and then to New 
York, that at that time he was fifteen years old and was called 
Heinz, not Henry, nor did he know a word of English. But he 
learned it very quickly, and while his father worked as a post-office 
clerk and his mother opened a bakery shop, he did so well at his 
studies that he was admitted to Harvard, where he graduated with 
honors with a thesis on Spengler, Toynbee, and Kant, and later 
became a professor. 

Everyone knows that at twenty-one he was a soldier in Germany, 
where he was one of a group of GPs selected by test and judged to 
have an IQ close to genius, that because of this (and despite his 
youth) he was entrusted with the job of organizing the government 
of Krefeld, a German city left without a government. Indeed it was 
in Krefeld that his passion for politics flowered, a passion that was 
to be gratified by his becoming an adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, 
later the presidential aide to Nixon, finally his secretary of state, 
until he came to be considered the second most powerful man in 
America. And already at that time, some maintained that he was 
much more, as is shown by the joke that for years made the rounds 
of Washington. “J us t think what would happen if Kissinger died. 
Richard Nixon would become president of the United States!" 

They used to call him Nixon’s mental wet nurse. They had even 
coined a wicked and revealing surname for him and Nixon: Nixin- 
ger. They said that Nixon could not do without him; that he wanted 
him always at his side on every trip, for every ceremony, every of¬ 
ficial dinner, every vacation. Above all, for every decision. If Nixon 
decided to go to Peking, thereby dumbfounding both the right and 
left, it was Kissinger who had put the idea in his head. If Nixon de¬ 
termined to go to Moscow, thereby confounding East and West, it 
was Kissinger who had suggested it. If Nixon announced reaching 
an agreement with Hanoi that would abandon Thieu, it was Kis¬ 
singer who had persuaded him to take this step. Thus Kissinger 
acted as an ambassador, a secret agent, a negotiator, a Mazarin, a 

Henry Kissinger 19 

Metternich, a veritable president who used the White House as his 
own house. 

Kissinger did not sleep there, since he wouldn't be allowed to 
bring in women, you would have said (he had not, as yet, married 
a former assistant of Nelson Rockefeller). For nine years he had 
created a myth of his amorous adventures and he carefully 
nourished it, always allowing himself to be seen with actresses, 
starlets, singers, models, women journalists, dancers, and million¬ 
airesses. Insatiable as a bull, though many did not believe such a 
myth and the skeptics claimed that he couldn't care less about these 
women, he behaved this way as a game, conscious of the fact that it 
increased his glamour, his popularity, his photographs in maga¬ 
zines. In this sense, too, he was the most talked-about man in 
America, and the most fashionable. His thick glasses had created a 
fashion, his curly hair, his gray suits and blue neckties, his decep¬ 
tively ingenuous air of one who has discovered life’s pleasures. 

Then Nixon resigned in shame, unmasked and defeated by a 
secret Putsch that nobody will ever consider a Putsch. Some said, 
“This is the end of Kissinger too.” Well, it was not. Kissinger 
remained where he was, still a powerful secretary of state and the 
new mental wet nurse of Ford, as unshakable and indestructible as 
a rock, or a cancer. Had he managed this devious Putsch? Was he 
irreplaceable, as the new president had intimated while begging 
him to stay? The mystery arose and is left to history. 

After all, the whole Kissinger case is a mystery. The man him¬ 
self, as well as his unparalleled success, is unexplained. As often 
happens when someone becomes very popular and very important, 
the more you know about him, the less you understand. Besides, 
he protects the incomprehensibility of his phenomenon so well that 
trying to explain it becomes a fatiguing exercise bordering on the im¬ 
possible. Very rarely does he grant personal interviews; he speaks only 
at press conferences arranged by the administration. And I swear 
that I will never understand why he agreed to see me, scarcely three 
days after receiving my letter, in which I had entertained no illu¬ 
sions. He says it was because of my interview with General Giap in 
Hanoi in February 1969. It may be so. But the fact remains that 
after his extraordinary “yes,” he changed his mind and decided to 
see me on one condition: that he would tell me nothing. During 
the meeting, 1 was to do the talking, and from what I said he would 



decide whether to grant me the interview or not. Assuming he 
could find the time. Yes, the time was found, the appointment 
made for Thursday, November 2, 1972, when 1 saw him arrive out 
of breath and unsmiling, and he said, “Good morning, Miss Fal- 
laci.” Then, still without smiling, he led me into his elegant office, 
full of books and telephones and papers and abstract paintings and 
photographs of Nixon. Here he forgot about me, turned his back, 
and began reading a long typewritten report. Indeed it was a little 
embarrassing to stand there in the middle of the room, while he 
had his back to me and kept reading. It was also stupid and ill-man¬ 
nered on his part. However, it allowed me to study him before he 
studied me. And not only to discover that he wasn’t attractive at all, 
so short and thickset and weighed down by a large head like a 
sheep, but to discover also that he is by no means carefree or sure 
of himself. Before facing someone, he needs to take time and pro¬ 
tect himself by his authority, a frequent phenomenon in shy people 
who try to conceal their shyness and by this effort end by seeming 
rude. Or by really being rude. 

After reading the typewritten report—meticulously and carefully, 
to judge by the time it took him—he finally turned to me and in¬ 
vited me to sit down on the couch. Then he took the adjacent 
armchair, higher than the couch, and from this privileged and stra¬ 
tegic position began to ask me questions in the tone of a professor 
examining a pupil in whom he has little confidence. He reminded 
me of my mathematics and physics teacher at the Liceo Galilei in 
Florence, an individual I hated because he enjoyed frightening me 
by staring at me ironically from behind his spectacles. He even had 
the same baritone, or rather guttural, voice as this teacher, and the 
same way of leaning back in the armchair with his right arm out¬ 
stretched, the gesture of crossing his legs, while his jacket was so 
tight over his stomach that it looked as though the buttons might 

If he intended to make me ill at ease, he succeeded perfectly. 
The nightmare of my schooldays assailed me to such a degree that, 
at each of his questions, I thought, Oh, God, will I know the an¬ 
swer? Because if I don’t, he’ll flunk me. His first question was 
about General Giap. “As I’ve told you, I never give personal inter¬ 
views. The reason why I’m about to consider the possibility of 
granting you one is that I read your interview with Giap. Very in- 

Henry Kissinger 


teresting. What is Giap like?” He asked it with the air of having 
little time at his disposal, so I had to sum it all up in a single effec¬ 
tive remark, and answered, '‘He seemed to me a French snob. Jo¬ 
vial and arrogant at the same time, but actually as boring as a rainy 
day. It was less an interview than a lecture. I couldn’t get excited 
about him. Still what he told me turned out to be true.” 

To minimize the figure of Giap in the eyes of an American was 
almost an insult; they were all a little enamored of him as they were 
thirty years ago of Rommel. The expression “French snob” there¬ 
fore left Kissinger bewildered. Perhaps he did not understand it. 
The revelation that he was “as boring as a rainy day” disturbed him; 
he knows that he himself carries the stigma of being a boring type, 
and his blue eyes flashed twice with hostility. The detail that struck 
him the most, however, was that I gave Giap credit for having 
predicted things correctly. Indeed he interrupted me: “Why true?” I 
replied that Giap had announced in 1969 what would happen in 
1972. “For example?” For example the fact that the Americans 
would withdraw little by little from Vietnam and would end by 
abandoning a war that was costing them more and more money 
and had soon brought them to the brink of inflation. The blue eyes 
flashed again. “And what, in your opinion, was the most important 
thing that Giap told you?” His having essentially disavowed the Tet 
offensive by attributing it to the Vietcong alone. This time he did 
not comment. He only asked, “Does he think that the initiative was 
started by the Vietcong?” “Perhaps, yes, Dr. Kissinger. Even chil¬ 
dren know that Giap likes tank engagements a la Rommel. In fact 
the Easter offensive was carried out a la Rommel and ...” “But 
he lost!” he protested. “Did he really lose?” I replied. “What makes 
you think that he didn’t lose?” “The fact that you have accepted an 
agreement that Thieu doesn’t like, Dr. Kissinger.” 

In an attempt to draw some information out of him, I added in a 
distracted tone, “Thieu will never give in.” He fell into my little 
trap. He answered, “He’ll give in. He has to.” Then he concen¬ 
trated on Thieu, his mare’s-nest. He asked me what I thought of 
Thieu. I told him that I had never liked him. “And why have you 
never liked him?” “Dr. Kissinger, you know better than I. You 
tried for three days, or rather four, to get something out of him.” 
This drew from him a sigh of assent and a grimace that, in retro¬ 
spect, is surprising. Kissinger knows perfectly how to control his 



features; it seldom happens that his eyes or lips betray an idea or 
feeling. But during that first meeting, for some reason he made 
little effort to control himself. Every time I said something against 
Thieu, he nodded or smiled with complicity. 

After Thieu he asked me about Nguyen Cao Ky and Do Cao 
Tri. Of the first he said that he was weak and talked too much. Of 
the second he said he was sorry not to have known him. “Was he 
really a great general?” Yes, 1 confirmed, a great general and a cou¬ 
rageous one, the only general whom I had seen go to the front lines 
and into combat. For this too, I suppose, they had assassinated 
him. Here he pretended astonishment. “Assassinated? By whom?” 
“Certainly not by the Vietcong, Dr. Kissinger. The helicopter 
didn’t crash because it was hit by mortar fire, but because someone 
had tampered with the blades. And certainly Thieu did not shed 
any tears over that crime. Nor did Cao Ky. A legend was being 
built up around Do Cao Tri, and he spoke so badly of Thieu and 
Ky. Even during my interview with him, he attacked them merci¬ 
lessly.” And this answer disturbed him more than the fact that 1 
later criticized the South Vietnamese army. 

This is what happened when he asked me about the last time 1 
had been to Saigon, about what I had seen, and I replied that I had 
seen an army that wasn’t worth a fig, and his face assumed a 
perplexed expression. Indeed, since I was sure that he was putting 
on an act, I joked. “Dr. Kissinger, don’t tell me you need me to 
find out these things. You who are the most well-informed person 
in the world!” But he did not understand my irony and continued 
to question me as if the fate of the cosmos depended on my judg¬ 
ments, or as if he could not live without them. He knows how to 
flatter with diabolical, hypocritical—or should 1 say diplo¬ 

After fifteen minutes of conversation, when I was biting my nails 
for having accepted this absurd interview from the man I was sup¬ 
posed to interview, he forgot a little about Vietnam, and, in the 
tone of a zealous reporter, asked me which heads of state had 
impressed me most. (He likes the word “impress.”) Resigned, I 
listed them. He agreed with me primarily on Bhutto. “Very in¬ 
telligent, very brilliant.” He did not agree about Indira Gandhi. 
“Did you really like her?” He didn’t even try to justify the unfortu¬ 
nate choice he had suggested to Nixon during the Indo-Pakistani 

Henry Kissinger 


conflict, when he sided with the Pakistanis who were to lose the 
war against the Indians who were to win it. Of another head of 
state, of whom I had said that he did not seem to me highly in¬ 
telligent but that I had liked him very much, he said, "It's not in¬ 
telligence that's important in a head of state. The quality that 
counts in a head of state is strength. Courage, shrewdness, and 

I consider this remark one of the most interesting things he said 
to me, with or without the tape recorder. It illustrates his type, his 
personality. The man loves strength above all. Courage, shrewd¬ 
ness, and strength. Intelligence interests him much less, though he 
himself possesses it abundantly, as everyone says. (But is it a matter 
of intelligence or of erudition and cunning? The intelligence that 
counts, as far as I’m concerned, is the humane kind, that which is 
bom from the understanding of men. And I wouldn't say that he 
has that kind of intelligence. So on this subject one ought to go a 
little deeper. Assuming it's worth the trouble.) 

The last phase of my examination emerged from a question that 
I really didn't expect. “What do you think will happen in Vietnam 
with the cease-fire?" Taken by surprise, I told him the truth. I said 
what I had written in a dispatch just published in L ’Europeo: there 
would be a great bloodbath, on both sides, and the war would go 
on. “And I'm afraid that the first to begin the bloodbath will be 
your friend Thieu." He jumped up, almost offended. “My friend?" 
“Well, anyway, Thieu." “And why?" “Because even before the 
Vietcong embark on their slaughter, he will carry out a secret mas¬ 
sacre in his prisons and jails. There will not be many neutralists or 
many Vietcong to form part of the provisional government after the 
cease-fire. ..." He frowned, looked perplexed, and finally said, 
“So you too believe in the bloodbath. . . . But there will be inter¬ 
national supervisors!" “Dr. Kissinger, even in Dacca there were the 
Indians. But they didn’t succeed in stopping the Mukti Bahini from 
slaughtering the Biharis." “I know, I know, and if. . . What if the 
armistice were delayed for a year or two?" “What, Dr. Kissinger?" 
“What if the armistice were delayed for a year or two?" he repeated. 
A perfect example of his shrewd use of flattery: he couldn't care less 
about my opinion. And yet, I fell for the ploy. I could have bitten 
my tongue, I could have wept. Indeed I think my eyes were wet 
when I looked at him again. “Dr. Kissinger, don’t make me suffer 



from the thought that I’ve put a wrong idea in your head. Dr. Kis¬ 
singer, the mutual slaughter will take place anyway—today, in a 
year, two years. And if the war goes on another year or two, besides 
the dead from that slaughter, we will have to count those from the 
bombing and fighting. Do I make myself clear? Ten plus twenty 
makes thirty. Aren’t ten victims better than thirty?” 

Stupidly unaware that he had made fun of me, I lost two nights 
of sleep over this, and when we met again for the interview I told 
him so. But he consoled me by saying that I shouldn’t upset myself 
by feeling guilty, that my mathematical calculation was correct, 
better ten than thirty, and this episode too illustrates his type and 
personality. The man likes to be liked, so he listens to everything, 
records everything like a computer. And just when it seems that he 
has discarded some now old and useless piece of information, he 
brings it forth as though it were valid and up to date. 

After about twenty-five minutes, he decided that I had passed my 
examination. But there remained one detail that bothered him a 
little: I was a woman. It was with a woman, the French journalist 
who had written the book, that he had had an unfortunate experi¬ 
ence. Supposing, despite my good intentions, I too were to cause 
him embarrassment? At this point I got angry. Certainly I couldn’t 
tell him what was on the tip of my tongue, namely that I had no 
intention of falling in love with him. But I could tell him other 
things, and I did. That I was not going to put myself in a situation 
like the one in which I found myself in Saigon in 1968 when, due 
to the poor figure cut by a cowardly Italian, I had had to put on a 
stupid display of heroics. That Mr. Kissinger should understand 
that I was not responsible for the bad taste of a lady who happened 
to be in the same profession as my own. So I shouldn’t have to pay 
for that, but, if he liked, I would wear a false mustache the next 
time we met. 

He agreed to let me interview him, without smiling, and an¬ 
nounced that he would find an hour on Saturday. And at ten 
o’clock, Saturday, November 4, I was back at the White House. At 
ten-thirty I entered his office to begin perhaps the most uncom¬ 
fortable and the worst interview that I have ever had. God, what a 
chore! Every ten minutes we were interrupted by the telephone, 
and it was Nixon who wanted something, asked something, petu¬ 
lant, tiresome, like a child who cannot be away from its mother. 

Henry Kissinger 


Kissinger answered attentively, obsequiously, and the conversation 
with me was interrupted, making the effort to understand him still 
more difficult. Then, just at the high point, when he was setting 
forth for me the elusive essence of his personality, one of the tele¬ 
phones rang and again it was Nixon. Could Dr. Kissinger look in 
on him a minute? Of course, Mr. President. He jumped up, told 
me to wait, saying he would still try to give me a little time, and 
left. And thus ended our meeting. Two hours later, while I was still 
waiting, his assistant, Dick Campbell, came in all embarrassed and 
explained that the president was leaving for California and that Dr. 
Kissinger had to go with him. He would not be back in Washing¬ 
ton before Tuesday evening, in time for the first election returns, 
but it was extremely doubtful that he would be able to conclude the 
interview at that time. If I could wait until the end of November, 
when many things would be clearer . . . 

1 couldn’t, and anyway it wasn’t worth the trouble. What w'as the 
point of trying to clarify a portrait that I already had before me? A 
portrait emerging from a confusion of lines, colors, evasive an¬ 
swers, reticent sentences, irritating silences. On Vietnam, ob¬ 
viously, he could not tell me anything more, and I am amazed that 
he had said as much as he had: that w'hether the war were to end or 
go on did not depend only on him, and he could not allow himself 
the luxury' of compromising everything by an unnecessary word. 
About himself, however, he didn’t have such problems. Yet every 
time I had asked him a precise question, he had wriggled out like 
an eel. An eel icier than ice. God, what an icy man! During the 
w'hole interview he never changed that expressionless countenance, 
that hard or ironic look, and never altered the tone of that sad, mo¬ 
notonous, unchanging voice. The needle on the tape recorder 
shifts when a word is pronounced in a higher or lower key. With 
him it remained still, and more than once I had to check to make 
sure that the machine w'as working. Do you know that obsessive, 
hammering sound of rain falling on a roof? His voice is like that. 
And basically his thoughts as well, never disturbed by a wish or fan¬ 
tasy, by an odd design, by a temptation of error. Everything in him 
is calculated, controlled as in the flight of an airplane steered by the 
automatic pilot. He weighs every sentence down to the last ounce, 
no unintentional words escape him, and whatever he says always 
forms part of some useful mechanism. Le Due Tho must have 



sweated blood in those days, and Thieu must have found his cun¬ 
ning sorely tried. Kissinger has the nerves and brain of a chess 

Naturally you will find explanations that take into consideration 
other aspects of his personality. For example, the fact that he is un¬ 
mistakably a Jew and irreparably a German. For example, the fact 
that, as a Jew and German, transplanted to a country that still looks 
with suspicion on Jews and Germans, he carries on his back a load 
of knotted contradictions, resentments, and perhaps hidden hu¬ 
manity. In fact, they attribute to him boundless gifts of imagina¬ 
tion, unappreciated talents for greatness. Could be. But in my eyes 
he remains an entirely common man and the most guilty repre¬ 
sentative of the kind of power of which Bertrand Russell speaks: “If 
they say ‘Die’, we shall die. If they say ‘live’, we shall live.” 

Let us not forget that he owes his success to the worst president 
that the United States has ever had: Nixon, trickster and liar, sick 
in his nerves and perhaps in his mind, who has come, despised by 
all, to an undignified end. Let us not forget that he was, and still is, 
Nixon’s creature. If Nixon had not existed, probably we would 
never even have known that Kissinger had been born. For years 
Kissinger had been offering his services to two other presidents, nei¬ 
ther of whom took him seriously. He was picked up by a governor 
who most certainly did not shine with acute brilliance and had ar¬ 
rived at political prominence only because of his billions: Nelson 
Rockefeller. Later Rockefeller had recommended him to Nixon, 
and the latter, in his ignorance, had been seduced by the pompous 
erudition of the German professor. Or was it by his totalitarian 
theses on the balance of the great powers, a laborious dusting-off of 
the Holy Alliance? Theirs was a meeting of two arrogant minds that 
believed neither in democracy nor in the changing world. And in 
that sense it was a successful meeting, so successful that the ease 
with which Kissinger abandoned Nixon when the latter fell into 
disgrace and shame seems truly astonishing. So far as I know, he 
did not even take the trouble to pay a visit to his Pygmalion who lay 
“dying” in a California hospital. He didn’t even bother to say a few 
words in his defense, to assume any responsibility for the misdeeds 
of which he was surely not ignorant and that he had probably en¬ 
dorsed. He went over bag and baggage to his successor, Ford, and 
merrily continued his career as secretary of state. 

Henry Kissinger 


Let’s put it this way: he is an intellectual adventurer. And there 
would be nothing wrong in his being an intellectual adventurer 
(many great men and many great politicians have been—1 would 
say almost all) if he succeeded in living in his own time and invent¬ 
ing something new, instead of going back to the decrepit concepts 
of his erudition or to personages who are in every sense defunct. In¬ 
stead he is a man who lives in the past, without understanding the 
present and without divining the future. Much as he denies it, he 
really believes himself to be the reincarnation of Metternich, that is 
to say an individual who depended only on himself to arrange mat¬ 
ters while basing his actions on secrecy, absolutism, and the igno¬ 
rance of people not yet awakened to the discovery of their rights. 
And it is for this reason that Kissinger’s successes always turn out to 
be brief and accidental: a flash in the pan or smoke in the eyes. It is 
for this reason that in the long run each of his undertakings, each 
of his expectations, fails, and he commits such gross errors. His 
peace in Vietnam did not resolve the problem or even the war. In 
Vietnam, after the armistice, the fighting and dying continued; in 
Cambodia (where he and Nixon had brought the war) there was 
never a moment of truce. And finally it ended as it did, because his 
peace accords were a fraud. A fraud to save Nixon’s face, bring 
home the American boys, the POW’s, withdraw the troops, and 
erase the uncomfortable word “Vietnam” from the newspapers. 

And his mediation between the Arabs and Israelis? Extolled and 
publicized as it has been, it has not lightened the tragedy of the 
Middle East by an ounce and if anything has worsened matters for 
the proteges of the United States. Since he began meddling in that 
part of the world, the conflict has grown and a war has broken out, 
Arafat has been received at the UN as a head of state, and Hus¬ 
sein has been deprived of all rights to the West Bank. And the 
Cyprus drama? It was precisely under Kissinger that the Cyprus 
drama exploded, with all its consequences. Did Kissinger know or 
not know that the fascist junta in Athens was preparing that in¬ 
vasion? If he knew, he was a fool not to understand the mistake. If 
he didn’t know, he was a bad secretary of state and even lacked the 
information that he boasts of having. And, in any case, the Cyprus 
drama deprived him of valuable allies: the Greek colonels. In ab¬ 
dicating they left Greece on the brink of war with Turkey. Constan¬ 
tine Karamanlis left NATO, and the Turks threatened to do like- 



wise. What American, before Kissinger, has ever found himself 
with two NATO countries preparing to go to war and with the 
Atlantic Alliance made to look so ridiculous? 

And then on Kissinger lies the horrible stain known as Chile. 
The documents that have appeared in the American press prove, 
beyond any possibility of denial, that it was Kissinger as well who 
wanted the overthrow of the democratic regime in Chile, the end 
of a democratically elected government. They also prove that Kis¬ 
singer unleashed the CIA against Salvador Allende Gossens, that 
Kissinger financially helped those who were preparing the coup 
d’etat. There are many who wonder if, like Macbeth, he is not 
troubled at night by a bloody ghost of Banquo: the ghost of Al¬ 
lende. No toasts with Chou En-lai and Leonid Brezhnev will ever 
be able to wash away the suspicions that lie on him for Allende’s 
death. Nor does it help to see how generously Kissinger behaves 
with Franco and Franco’s Spain, deaf to the future that a demo¬ 
cratic Spain prepares for herself in spite of Ford’s visits. It is almost 
unbelievable how this shaker of Communist leaders’ hands shows 
his esteem and friendship only for the countries ruled by some form 
of Fascism. And it is poor consolation to go on saying that his star 
is declining, that perhaps it has already set, that it is history that 
will have the final say on this too famous, too important, too lucky 
man whom they called Superman, Superstar, Superkraut. 

Published in its entirety in the weekly New Republic , quoted in 
its more salient moments in the Washington and New York dailies, 
and then by almost all the newspapers in the the United States, the in¬ 
terview with Kissinger kicked up a fuss that amazed me as much as 
its consequences. Obviously, I had underestimated the man and 
the interest that flourished around each of his words. Obviously, I 
had minimized the importance of that unbearable hour spent with 
him. In fact it immediately became the topic of the day. And the 
rumor soon spread that Nixon was enraged with Henry, that he 
therefore refused to see him, that in vain Henry telephoned him, 
asking for a hearing, and went to seek him out in his San Clemente 
residence. The gates of San Clemente remained closed, the hearing 
was not granted, the telephone went unanswered because the presi¬ 
dent did not care to answer. The president, among other things, 
did not forgive Henry for what Henry had said to me about the 

Henry Kissinger 


reason for his success: . . that I’ve always acted alone. Ameri¬ 

cans like that immensely. Americans like the cowboy who leads the 
wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse, the cowboy who 
rides all alone into the town, the village, with his horse and noth¬ 
ing else. ...” Even the press criticized him for this. 

The press had always been generous with Kissinger, merciless 
toward Nixon. In this case, however, the sides were reversed and 
every newspaperman condemned the presumption, or at least the 
imprudence, of such a statement. How did Henry Kissinger dare to 
assume the whole credit for what he had achieved as Nixon’s 
envoy? How did he dare to relegate Nixon to the role of spectator? 
Where was the president of the United States when the little profes¬ 
sor entered the village to arrange things in the style of Henry Fonda 
in a Western film? The crueler newspapers published cartoons 
showing Kissinger dressed as a cowboy and galloping toward a sa¬ 
loon. Others showed a picture of Kissinger in cowboy hat and 
spurs, with the caption “Henry, the Lone Ranger.” An exasperated 
Kissinger let himself be questioned by a reporter, to whom he said 
that receiving me had been “the stupidest thing in his life.” Then 
he declared that I had garbled his answers, distorted his thoughts, 
embroidered on his words, and he did so in such a clumsy way that 
I became angrier than Nixon and took the offensive. I sent him a 
telegram to Paris, at the American embassy, where he happened to 
be at the moment, and in substance I asked him if he were a man 
of honor or a clown. I even threatened to make public the tapes of 
the interview. Mr. Kissinger should not forget that it had been 
recorded on tape and that this tape was at the disposal of everyone 
to refresh his memory and the exactness of his words. I made the 
same declaration to Time magazine, Newsweek , the CBS and NBC 
television networks, and to anyone who came to'ask me about what 
had happened. And the altercation went on for almost two months, 
to the unhappiness of both of us, especially me. I could no longer 
stand Henry Kissinger; his name was enough to upset me. I de¬ 
tested him to such a point that I wasn’t even able to realize that the 
poor man had had no other choice but to throw the blame on me. 
But certainly it would be incorrect to say that at that time I wished 
him all success and happiness. 

The truth is that my anathemas have no effect. Very' soon Nixon 
stopped looking askance at his Henry and the two of them went 



back to cooing like a pair of doves. Their cease-fire was ac¬ 
complished. The American prisoners returned home. Those pris¬ 
oners who were such a pressing issue for Mr. Nixon. And the real¬ 
ity of Vietnam became a period of waiting for the next war. Then, 
a year later, Kissinger became secretary of state in place of William 
Rogers. In Stockholm they even gave him the Nobel Peace Prize. 
Poor Nobel. Poor peace. 

oriana fallaci: Pm wondering what you feel these days, Dr. Kis¬ 
singer. Pm wondering if you too are disappointed, like our¬ 
selves, like most of the world. Are you disappointed, Mr. Kis¬ 

henry kissinger: Disappointed? Why? What has happened these 
days about which I should be disappointed? 

O.F.: Something not exactly happy, Dr. Kissinger. Though you had 
said that peace was “at hand,” and though you had confirmed 
that an agreement had been reached with the North Vietnam¬ 
ese, peace has not come. The war goes on as before, and 
worse than before. 

H.K.: There will be peace. We have decided to have it and we will. 
It will come within a few weeks' time or even less; that is, im¬ 
mediately after the resumption of negotiations with the North 
Vietnamese for the final accord. This is what I said ten days 
ago and I repeat it. Yes, we will have peace within a reason¬ 
ably short period of time if Hanoi agrees to another meeting 
before signing the accord, a meeting to settle the details, and if 
it accepts this in the same spirit and with the same attitude 
that it held in October. These “ifs” are the only uncertainty 
these days. But it is an uncertainty that I don’t even want to 
consider. You’re letting yourself succumb to panic, and in 
these matters there is no need to succumb to panic. Nor even 
to impatience. The fact is that . . . Well, for months we have 
been conducting these negotiations and you reporters haven’t 
believed us. You’ve kept saying that they would come to noth¬ 
ing. Then, all of a sudden, you shouted about peace being al¬ 
ready here, and now finally you say the negotiations have 
failed. In saying this, you take our temperature every day, four 
times a day. But you take it from Hanoi’s point of view. And 

Henry Kissinger 

3 i 

. . . mind you, I understand Hanoi's point of view. The 
North Vietnamese wanted us to sign on October 31, which 
was reasonable and unreasonable at the same time and . . . 
No, I don’t intend to argue about this. 

O.F.: But you had committed yourselves to sign on October 31! 

H.K.: 1 say and repeat that they were the ones to insist on this date, 
and that to avoid an abstract discussion about dates that at the 
time seemed entirely theoretical, we said that we would make 
every effort to conclude the negotiations by October 31. But it 
was always clear, at least to us, that we would not be able to 
sign an agreement whose details still remained to be clarified. 
We would not have been able to observe a date simply be¬ 
cause, in good faith, we had promised to make every effort to 
observe it. So at what point are we? At the point where those 
details remain to be clarified and where a new meeting is in¬ 
dispensable. They say it’s not indispensable, that it’s not neces¬ 
sary. I say that it is indispensable and that it will take place. It 
will take place as soon as the North Vietnamese call me to 
Paris. But this is only November 4, today is November 4, and 
1 can understand that the North Vietnamese don’t want to 
resume negotiations just a few days after the date on which 
they had asked us to sign. I can understand their postponing 
things. But I, at least, cannot conceive their rejecting another 
meeting. Just now when we have covered ninety percent of the 
ground and are about to reach our goal. No, I'm not disap¬ 
pointed. I will be, certainly, if Hanoi should break the agree¬ 
ment, if Hanoi should refuse to discuss any changes. But I 
can’t believe that, no. I can’t even suspect that we’ve come so 
far only to fail on a question of prestige, of procedure, of 
dates, of nuances. 

O.F.: And yet it looks as though they’ve really become rigid, Dr. 
Kissinger. They’ve gone back to a hard line, they’ve made 
serious, almost insulting, accusations against you. . . . 

H.K.: Oh, that means nothing. It’s happened before and we never 
gave it any importance. I would say that the hard line, the 
serious accusations, even the insults, are part of the normal 
situation. Nothing has changed essentially. Since Tuesday, 
October 31, that is ever since we’ve calmed down here, you re¬ 
porters keep asking us if the patient is sick. But I don’t see any 



sickness. And I really maintain that things are going to develop 
more or less as I say. Peace, I repeat, will come within a few 
weeks after the resumption of negotiations. Not within a few 
months. Within a few weeks. 

O.F.: But when will the negotiations be resumed? That's the point. 

h.k.: As soon as Le Due Tho wishes to see me again. I’m here 
waiting. But without feeling anxious, I assure you. For God's 
sake! Before, two or three weeks used to go by between one 
meeting and another! I don't see why now we should be upset 
if a few days go by. The only reason that you're all so nervous 
is that people are wondering, “But will they resume these 
talks?" When you were all cynical and didn’t believe that any¬ 
thing was happening, you never realized that time was pass¬ 
ing. You were too pessimistic in the beginning, then too op¬ 
timistic after my press conference, and now again you’re too 
pessimistic. You can’t get it into your heads that everything is 
proceeding as I had always thought it would from the moment 
I said that peace was at hand. It seems to me I then figured on 
a couple of weeks. But even if it should take more . . . That's 
enough, I don't want to talk any more about Vietnam. I can't 
allow myself to, at this time. Every word I say becomes news. 
At the end of November perhaps . . . Listen, why don’t we 
meet again at the end of November? 

O.F.: Because it’s more interesting now, Dr. Kissinger. Because 
Thieu, for instance, has dared you to speak. Look at this clip¬ 
ping from The New York Times. It quotes Thieu as saying: 
“Ask Kissinger on what points we’re divided, what are the 
points I don't accept." 

H.K.: Let me see it. . . . Ah! No, I won’t answer him. I won't pay 
any attention to this invitation. 

O.F.: He’s already given his own answer, Dr. Kissinger. He’s al¬ 
ready said that the sore issue is the fact that, according to the 
terms accepted by you, North Vietnamese troops will remain 
in South Vietnam. Dr. Kissinger, do you think you'll ever 
succeed in convincing Thieu? Do you think that America will 
have to come to a separate agreement with Hanoi? 

H.K.: Don't ask me that. I have to keep to what I said publicly ten 
days ago ... I cannot, I must not consider an hypothesis that 
I do not think will happen. An hypothesis that should not hap- 

Henry Kissinger 


pen. I can only tell you that we are determined to have this 
peace, and that in any case we will have it, in the shortest 
time possible after my next meeting with Le Due Tho. Thieu 
can say what he likes. That’s his own business. 

O.F.: Dr. Kissinger, if I were to put a pistol to your head and ask 
you to choose between having dinner with Thieu and having 
dinner with Le Due Tho . . . whom would you choose? 

H.K.: I cannot answer that question. 

O.F.: And if I were to answer by saying that I’d like to think you’d 
more willingly have dinner with Le Due Tho? 

H.K.: I cannot, I cannot... I do not wish to answer that question. 

O.F.: So can you answer this question: did you like Le Due Tho? 

H.K.: Yes. I found him a man very dedicated to his cause, very 
serious, very strong, and always polite and courteous. Also 
sometimes very hard, in fact difficult, to deal with, but this is 
something I’ve always respected in him. Yes, I have great re¬ 
spect for Le Due Tho. Naturally our relationship has been 
very professional, but I think ... I think I’ve noticed a cer¬ 
tain niceness that shines through him. It’s a fact, for instance, 
that at times we’ve even succeeded in making jokes. We said 
that one day I might go to teach international relations at the 
University of Hanoi and he would come to Harvard to teach 
Marxism-Leninism. Well, I would call our relations good. 

O.F.: Would you say the same thing for Thieu? 

H.K.: I have also had good relations with Thieu. At first . . . 

O.F.: Exactly, at first. The South Vietnamese have said that you 
didn’t greet each other like the best of friends. 

H.K.: What did they say? 

O.F.: That you didn’t greet each other like good friends, I repeat. 
Would you care to state the opposite, Dr. Kissinger? 

H.K.: Well . . . Certainly we had and have our own viewpoints. 
And not necessarily the same viewpoints. So let’s say that we 
greeted each other as allies, Thieu and I. 

O.F.: Dr. Kissinger, that Thieu was a harder nut to crack than any¬ 
one thought has now been shown. So as regards Thieu, do 
you feel that you’ve done everything you could or do you hope 
to be able to do something more? In short, do you feel op¬ 
timistic about the problem of Thieu? 

h.k.: Of course I feel optimistic! I still have things to do. A lot to 



do! I'm not through yet, we're not through yet! And I don't 
feel powerless. I don't feel discouraged. Not at all. I feel ready 
and confident. Optimistic. If I can't speak of Thieu, if I can't 
tell you what we're doing at this point in the negotiations, that 
doesn't mean I'm about to lose faith in being able to arrange 
things within the time I’ve said. That’s why it’s useless for 
Thieu to ask you reporters to make me spell out the points on 
which we disagree. It's so useless that I don't even get upset by 
such a demand. Furthermore I'm not the kind of person to be 
swayed by emotion. Emotions serve no purpose. Less than 
anything do they serve to achieve peace. 

O.F.: But the dying, those about to die, are in a hurry, Dr. Kis¬ 
singer. In the newspapers this morning there's an awful pic¬ 
ture: a very young Vietcong dead two days after October 31. 
And then there was an awful piece of news: twenty-two Ameri¬ 
cans dead in a helicopter downed by a Vietcong mortar, three 
days after October 31. And while you advise against haste, the 
American Defense Department is sending fresh arms and am¬ 
munition to Thieu. Hanoi is doing the same. 

h.k.: That was inevitable. It always happens before a cease-fire. 
Don't you remember the maneuvers that took place in the 
Middle East at the moment of the cease-fire? They went on for 
at least two years. You see, the fact that we’re sending more 
arms to Saigon and that Hanoi is sending more arms to the 
North Vietnamese stationed in South Vietnam means noth¬ 
ing. Nothing. Nothing. And don't make me talk about Viet¬ 
nam anymore, please. 

O.F.: Don't you even want to talk about the fact that, according to 
many, the agreement accepted by you and Nixon is practically 
a sellout to Hanoi? 

h.k. : That's absurd! It's absurd to say that President Nixon, a presi¬ 
dent who in the face of the Soviet Union and Communist 
China and on the eve of elections in his own country has as¬ 
sumed an attitude of aid and defense for South Vietnam 
against what he considered a North Vietnamese invasion . . . 
it’s absurd to think that such a president could sell out to 
Hanoi. And why should he sell out just now? What we have 
done hasn't been a sellout. It has been to give South Vietnam 
an opportunity to survive in conditions that, today, are more 

Henry Kissinger 


political than military. Now it's up to the South Vietnamese to 
win the political contest that’s awaiting them. As we’ve always 
said. If you compare the accepted agreement with our pro¬ 
posals of May 8, you’ll realize that it’s almost the same thing. 
There are no great differences between what we proposed last 
May and what the draft of the accepted agreement contains. 
We haven’t put in any new clauses, we haven’t made other 
concessions. I absolutely and totally reject the notion of a 
“sellout.” But, really that’s enough talk now about Vietnam. 
Let’s talk about Machiavelli, about Cicero, anything but about 

O.F.: Let’s talk about war, Dr. Kissinger. You’re not a pacifist, are 

H.K.: No, I really don’t think I am. Even though 1 respect genuine 
pacifists, I don’t agree with any pacifist, and especially not 
with halfway pacifists: you know, those who are pacifists on 
one side and anything but pacifists on the other. The only 
pacifists that I agree to talk to are those who accept the conse¬ 
quences of nonviolence right to the end. But even with them 
I’m only willing to speak to tell them that they will be crushed 
by the will of the stronger and that their pacifism can only lead 
to horrible suffering. War is not an abstraction, it is something 
that depends on conditions. The war against Hitler, for ex¬ 
ample, was necessary. By that I don’t mean that war is neces¬ 
sary in itself, that nations have to make war to maintain their 
virility. I mean that there are existing principles for which na¬ 
tions must be prepared to fight. 

O.F.: And what do you have to say about the war in Vietnam, 
Dr. Kissinger? You’ve never been against the war in Vietnam, 
it seems to me. 

h.k.: How could I have been? Not even before holding the position 
I have today . . . No, I’ve never been against the war in Viet¬ 

O.F.: But don’t you find that Schlesinger is right when he says that 
the war in Vietnam has succeeded only in proving that half a 
million Americans with all their technology have been incapa¬ 
ble of defeating poorly armed men dressed in black pajamas? 

h.k.: That’s another question. If it is a question whether the war in 
Vietnam was necessary’, a just war, rather than . . . Judg- 



ments of that kind depend on the position that one takes when 
the country is already involved in the war and the only thing 
left is to conceive a way to get out of it. After all, my role, our 
role, has been to reduce more and more the degree to which 
America was involved in the war, so as then to end the war. In 
the final analysis, history will say who did more: those who 
operated by criticizing and nothing else, or we who tried to 
reduce the war and then ended it. Yes, the verdict is up to his¬ 
tory. When a country is involved in a war, it’s not enough to 
say it must be ended. It must be ended in accordance with 
some principle. And this is quite different from saying that it 
was right to enter that war. 

O.F.: But don't you find, Dr. Kissinger, that it's been a useless war? 

H.K.: On this I can agree. But let's not forget that the reason why 
we entered this war was to keep the South from being gobbled 
up by the North, it was to permit the South to remain the 
South. Of course, by that I don't mean that this was our only 
objective. ... It was also something more . . . But today 
I'm not in the position to judge whether the war in Vietnam 
has been just or not, whether our getting into it was useful or 
useless. But are we still talking about Vietnam? 

O.F.: Yes. And, still speaking of Vietnam, do you think you can say 
that these negotiations have been and are the most important 
undertaking of your career and even of your life? 

H.K.: They've been the most difficult undertaking. Also often the 
most painful. But maybe it's not even right to call them the 
most difficult undertaking. It's more exact to say that they have 
been the most painful undertaking. Because they have in¬ 
volved me emotionally. You see, to approach China was an 
intellectually difficult task but not emotionally difficult. Peace 
in Vietnam instead has been an emotionally difficult task. As 
for calling these negotiations the most important thing I have 
done . . . No, what I wanted to achieve was not only peace 
in Vietnam, it was three things. This agreement, the rap¬ 
prochement with China, and a new relationship with the So¬ 
viet Union. I've always attached great importance to the prob¬ 
lem of a new relationship with the Soviet Union. I would say 
no less than to the rapprochement with China and to ending 
the war in Vietnam. 

Henry Kissinger 


O.F.: And you’ve done it. The coup with China has been a success, 
the coup with Russia has been a success, and the coup of 
peace in Vietnam almost. So at this point I ask you, Dr. Kis¬ 
singer, the same thing I asked the astronauts when they went 
to the moon: “What next? What will you do after the moon; 
what else can you do besides your job as an astronaut?” 

H.K.: Ah! And what did the astronauts say? 

O.F.: They were confused and said, “We’ll see ... I don’t know.” 

H.K.: Neither do I. I really don’t know what I’ll do afterward. But, 
unlike the astronauts, I’m not confused by it. I have found so 
many things to do in my life and I am sure that when I leave 
this post ... Of course, I’ll need some time to recuperate, a 
period of decompression. No one who is in the position 1 am 
can just leave it and start something else right away. But, as 
soon as I’ve been decompressed, I’m sure to find something 
that’s worth doing. I don’t want to think about it now, it could 
influence my . . . my work. We’re going through such a rev¬ 
olutionary period that to plan one’s own life, nowadays, is an 
attitude worthy of the nineteenth-century lower middle class. 

O.F.: Would you go back to teaching at Harvard? 

H.K.: I might. But it’s very, very unlikely. There are more interest¬ 
ing things, and if, with all the experience I’ve had, I didn’t 
find some way of keeping up an interesting life ... it will re¬ 
ally be my own fault. Furthermore, I’ve by no means decided 
to give up this job. I like it very much, you know. 

O.F.: Of course. Power is always alluring. Dr. Kissinger, to what 
degree does power fascinate you? Try to be frank. 

H.K.: I will. You see, when you have power in your hands and have 
held it for a long period of time, you end up thinking of it as 
something that’s due you. I’m sure that when I leave this post, 
I’ll feel the lack of power. Still power as an instrument in its 
own right has no appeal for me. I don’t wake up every morn¬ 
ing saying, my God, isn’t it extraordinary that I can have an 
airplane at my disposal, that a car with a chauffeur is waiting 
for me at the door? Who would ever have said it was possible? 
No, such thoughts don’t interest me. And if I should happen 
to have them, they certainly don’t become a determining fac¬ 
tor. What interests me is what you can do with power. Believe 
me, you can do wonderful things. . . . Anyway it wasn’t a 



desire for power that drove me to take this job. If you look at 
my political past, you’ll see that President Nixon couldn’t have 
figured in my plans. I’ve been against him in a good three 

O.F.: I know. You once even stated that Nixon “wasn’t fit to be 
president.” Has this ever made you feel embarrassed with 
Nixon, Dr. Kissinger? 

H.K.: I don’t remember the exact words I may have said against 
Richard Nixon. But I suppose I must have said something 
more or less like that since people go on repeating the phrase 
in quotation marks. Anyway if I did say it, that’s the proof that 
Nixon wasn’t included in my plans for gaining a high govern¬ 
ment position. And as for feeling embarrassed with him ... I 
didn’t know him at that time. I had toward him the usual atti¬ 
tude of intellectuals, do you see what I mean? But I was 
wrong. President Nixon has shown great strength, great ability. 
Even by calling on me. I had never approached him when he 
offered me this job. I was astonished by it. After all he knew I 
had never shown much friendship or sympathy for him. Oh, 
yes, he showed great courage in calling me. 

O.F.: He didn’t lose anything by it, Dr. Kissinger. Except for the ac¬ 
cusation that’s made against you today, that you’re Nixon’s 
mental wet nurse. 

h.k.: That’s a totally senseless accusation. Let’s not forget that be¬ 
fore he knew me, President Nixon had been very active in 
foreign policy. It had always been his consuming interest. 
Even before he was elected, it was obvious that foreign policy 
was a very important matter for him. He has very clear ideas 
on the subject. He’s a strong man. Furthermore, you don’t 
become president of the United States, you don’t get nomi¬ 
nated twice as a presidential candidate, you don’t survive so 
long in politics, if you’re a weak man. You can think what you 
like of President Nixon, but one thing is certain: you don’t 
twice become president by being someone else’s tool. Such in¬ 
terpretations are romantic and unfair. 

O.F.: Are you very fond of him, Dr. Kissinger? 

h.k. : I have great respect for him. 

O.F.: Dr. Kissinger, people say that you care nothing about Nixon. 
They say that all you care about is this job and nothing else. 
They say you would have done it under any president. 

Henry Kissinger 


h.k.: Instead I'm not at all sure that I would have been able to do 
with another president what I’ve done with him. Such a spe¬ 
cial relationship, I mean the relationship there is between me 
and the president, always depends on the style of the two men. 
In other words, I don’t know many leaders, and I’ve met sev¬ 
eral, who would have had the courage to send their aide to 
Peking without saying anything to anybody. I don’t know 
many leaders who would leave to their aide the task of nego¬ 
tiating with the North Vietnamese, while informing only a 
tiny group of people about it. Certain things really depend on 
the type of president; what I’ve done has been possible because 
he made it possible for me. 

O.F.: And yet you were also an adviser to other presidents. Even 
presidents who were Nixon’s opponents. I’m speaking of Ken¬ 
nedy, Johnson . . . 

h.k.: My position toward all presidents has always been to leave to 
them the job of deciding if they wanted to know my opinion 
or not. When they asked me for it, I gave it to them, telling 
them, indiscriminately, what I thought. It never mattered to 
me what party they belonged to. I answered questions from 
Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon with the same independence. I 
gave them the same advice. It’s true that it was more difficult 
with Kennedy. In fact people like to say that I didn’t get along 
with him. Well . . . yes, it was mostly my fault. At that time 
I was much less mature than now. And then I was a part- 
time adviser; you can’t influence the day-by-day policy of a 
president if you see him only twice a week when others see 
him seven days a week. I mean . . . with Kennedy and John¬ 
son I was never in a position comparable to the one I have 
now with Nixon. 

O.F.: No Machiavellianism, Dr. Kissinger? 

H.K. : No, none. Why? 

O.F.: Because at certain moments, listening to you, one might 
wonder not how much you have influenced the president of 
the United States, but how much Machiavelli has influenced 

h.k.: In no way at all. There is really very little of Machiavelli that 
can be accepted or used in the modern world. The only thing 
I find interesting in Machiavelli is his way of considering the 
will of the prince. Interesting, but not to the point of influenc- 



ing me. If you want to know who has influenced me the most, 

I ll answer with the names of two philosophers: Spinoza and 
Kant. So it's curious that you choose to associate me with 
Machiavelli. People rather associate me with the name of 
Metternich. Which is actually childish. On Metternich I've 
written only one book, which was to be the beginning of a 
long series of books on the construction and disintegration of 
the international order of the nineteenth century. It was a 
series that was to end with the First World War. That's all. 
There can be nothing in common between me and Metter¬ 
nich. He was chancellor and foreign minister in a period 
when, from the center of Europe, you needed three weeks to 
go from one continent to another. He was chancellor and 
foreign minister in a period when wars were conducted by pro¬ 
fessional soldiers and diplomacy was in the hands of aristo¬ 
crats. How can you compare that with today's world, a world 
where there is no homogenous group of leaders, no homoge¬ 
nous internal situation, no homogenous cultural reality? 

O.F.: Dr. Kissinger, how do you explain the incredible movie-star 
status you enjoy, how do you explain the fact that you're al¬ 
most more famous and popular than a president? Have you a 
theory on this matter? 

h.k.: Yes, but I won't tell you. Because it doesn't match most peo¬ 
ple's theories. The theory of intelligence, for example. And 
then intelligence is not all that important in the exercise of 
power, and often actually doesn’t help. In the same way as a 
head of state, a fellow who does my job doesn't need to be too 
intelligent. My theory is completely different, but, I repeat, I 
won’t tell you. Why should I as long as I’m still in the middle 
of my work? Rather, you tell me yours. I'm sure that you too 
have a theory about the reasons for my popularity. 

O.F.: I'm not sure, Dr. Kissinger. I'm looking for one through this 
interview. And I don't find it. I suppose that at the root of ev¬ 
erything there’s your success. I mean, like a chess player, 
you've made two or three good moves. China, first of all. Peo¬ 
ple like chess players who checkmate the king. 

h.k.: Yes, China has been a very important element in the me¬ 
chanics of my success. And yet that’s not the main point. The 
main point . . . Well, yes, I’ll tell you. What do I care? The 

Henry Kissinger 


main point arises from the fact that I’ve always acted alone. 
Americans like that immensely. Americans like the cowboy 
who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse, 
the cowboy who rides all alone into the town, the village, with 
his horse and nothing else. Maybe even without a pistol, since 
he doesn’t shoot. He acts, that’s all, by being in the right place 
at the right time. In short, a Western. 

o.f.: I see. You see yourself as a kind of Henry Fonda, unarmed 
and ready to fight with his fists for honest ideals. Alone, coura¬ 
geous . . . 

h.k.: Not necessarily courageous. In fact, this cowboy doesn’t have 
to be courageous. All he needs is to be alone, to show others 
that he rides into the town and does everything by himself. 
This amazing, romantic character suits me precisely because 
to be alone has always been part of my style or, if you like, my 
technique. Together with independence. Oh, that’s very im¬ 
portant in me and for me. And finally, conviction. I’ve always 
been convinced that I had to do whatever I’ve done. And peo¬ 
ple feel it, and believe in it. And I care about the fact that they 
believe in me—when you sway or convince somebody, you 
shouldn’t confuse them. Nor can you even simply calculate. 
Some people think that I carefully plan what are to be the 
consequences, for the public, of any of my initiatives or ef¬ 
forts. They think this preoccupation is always on my mind. In¬ 
stead the consequences of what I do, I mean the public's judg¬ 
ment, have never bothered me. I don’t ask for popularity, I’m 
not looking for popularity. On the contrary, if you really want 
to know, I care nothing about popularity. I’m not at all afraid 
of losing my public; I can allow myself to say what I think. I’m 
referring to what’s genuine in me. If I were to let myself be 
disturbed by the reactions of the public, if I were to act solely 
on the basis of a calculated technique, I would accomplish 
nothing. Look at actors. The really good ones don’t rely only 
on technique. They perform by following a technique and 
their own convictions at the same time. Like me, they’re gen¬ 
uine. I don’t say that all this has to go on forever. In fact, it 
may evaporate as quickly as it came. Nevertheless for the 
moment it’s there. 

O.F. : Are you trying to tell me you’re a spontaneous man, Dr. Kis- 



singer? My God, if I leave out Machiavelli, the first character 
with whom it seems to me natural to associate you would be 
some cold mathematician, painfully self-controlled. Unless 
I’m mistaken, you’re a very cold man, Dr. Kissinger. 

h.k.: In tactics, not in strategy. In fact, I believe more in human 
relations than in ideas. I use ideas but I need human relations, 
as I’ve shown in my work. After all, didn’t what happened to 
me actually happen by chance? Good God, I was a completely 
unknown professor. How could I have said to myself: Now I’m 
going to maneuver things so as to become internationally fa¬ 
mous? It would have been pure folly. I wanted to be where 
things were happening, of course, but I never paid a price for 
getting there. I’ve never made concessions. I’ve always let 
myself be guided by spontaneous decisions. One might then 
say it happened because it had to happen. That’s what they 
always say when things have happened. They never say that 
about things that don’t happen—the history of things that 
didn’t happen has never been written. In a certain sense, how¬ 
ever, I’m a fatalist. I believe in destiny. I’m convinced, of 
course, that you have to fight to reach a goal. But I also 
believe that there are limits to the struggle that a man can put 
up to reach a goal. 

O.F.: One more thing, Dr. Kissinger: but how do you reconcile the 
tremendous responsibilities that you’ve assumed with the frivo¬ 
lous reputation you enjoy? How can you get Mao Tse-tung, 
Chou En-lai, or Le Due Tho to take you seriously and then let 
yourself be judged as a carefree Don Juan or simply a playboy? 
Doesn’t it embarrass you? 

H.K.: Not at all. Why should it embarrass me when I go to negoti¬ 
ate with Le Due Tho? When I speak to Le Due Tho, I know 
what I have to do with Le Due Tho, and when I’m with girls, 
I know what I must do with girls. Besides, Le Due Tho doesn’t 
at all agree to negotiate with me because I represent an ex¬ 
ample of moral rectitude. He agrees to negotiate with me 
because he wants certain things from me in the same way that 
I want certain things from him. Look, in the case of Le Due 
Tho, as in the case of Chou En-lai and Mao Tse-tung, I think 
that my playboy reputation has been and still is useful because 
it served and still serves to reassure people. To show them that 

Henry Kissinger 


I'm not a museum piece. Anyway, this frivolous reputation 
amuses me. 

O.F.: And to think I believed it an undeserved reputation, I mean 
playacting instead of a reality. 

H.K.: Well, it's partly exaggerated, of course. But in part, let’s face 
it, it’s true. What counts is not to what degree it’s true, or to 
what degree I devote myself to women. What counts is to what 
degree women are part of my life, a central preoccupation. 
Well, they aren’t that at all. For me women are only a diver¬ 
sion, a hobby. Nobody spends too much time with his hob¬ 
bies. And that I spend only a limited time with them you can 
see by taking a look at my schedule. I’ll tell you something 
else: it’s not seldom that I’d rather see my two children. I see 
them often, in fact, though not as much as before. As a rule, 
we spend Christmas together, the important holidays, and sev¬ 
eral weeks during the summer, and I go to Boston once a 
month. Just to see them. You surely know that I’ve been 
divorced for some years. No, the fact of being divorced doesn’t 
bother me. The fact of not living with my children doesn’t 
give me any guilt complexes. Ever since my marriage was 
over, and it was not the fault of either of us that it ended, 
there was no reason not to get divorced. Furthermore, I’m 
much closer to my children now than when I was their 
mother’s husband. I’m also much happier wdth them now. 

O.F.: Are you against marriage, Dr. Kissinger? 

h.k.: No. The dilemma of marriage or no marriage is one that can 
be resolved as a question of principle. It could happen that I’ll 
get married again . . . yes, that could happen. But, you 
know, when you’re a serious person, as, after all, I am, to live 
with someone else and survive that living together is very dif¬ 
ficult. The relationship between a woman and a fellow like me 
is inevitably so complex. . . . One has to be careful. Oh, it’s 
difficult for me to explain these things. I’m not a person who 
confides in reporters. 

O.F.: So I see, Dr. Kissinger. I’ve never interviewed anyone who 
evaded questions and precise definitions like you, anyone who 
defended himself like you from any attempt by others to pene¬ 
trate to his personality. Are you shy, Dr. Kissinger? 

H.K.: Yes. Fairly so. But as compensation I think I’m pretty well 



balanced. You see, there are those who depict me as a myste¬ 
rious, tormented character, and those who depict me as an al¬ 
most cheerful fellow who's always smiling, always laughing. 
Both these images are incorrect. I'm neither one nor the 
other. I'm ... I won't tell you what I am. I'll never tell any¬ 

Washington , November 1972 


Nguyen Van Thieu 

The appointment with Nguyen Van Thieu was for eight in the 
morning in the presidential palace in Saigon, where the president 
invited me to have breakfast with him. And at eight on the dot 
Nguyen Van Thieu entered the room where I, along with his 
special adviser Hoang Due Nha and the photographer Gianfranco 
Moroldo, was waiting for him. A great smile on his round and 
shining face, an unexpected cordiality in his voice and eyes, Thieu 
came forward extending me his open hand and immediately began 
with a joke. ‘'Which of you two is the chief?” he asked, indicating 
with his short index finger Moroldo and me. “Both,” replied 
Moroldo. “Not at all,” I joked back. “I'm the chief, even if he's tall 
and I'm short.” And, perhaps because the dictator is so short, even 
shorter than I, he liked the answer. In fact, he exploded in a laugh 
full of approbation and exclaimed, “Right. I absolutely agree. 
Power should not be divided. There should be only one, that's all.” 
Precisely the concept he was to repeat at the end of the interview, 
when, all excited, he was to say, “Ask me who’s the chief here.” 
And I, “Who's the chief here?” And he, “I am! I’m the chief! Moil 
C’est moi le chef!” He had been described to me as a very closed 
man, and I was therefore dumbfounded. I actually wondered if what 
had made him so cheerful and extroverted might not be the bomb¬ 
ings of Hanoi, which had been going on implacably for days. He 
had not yet received the news that the Americans had again sus- 


4 6 


pended them and that Kissinger would again meet with Le Due 

Thieu was wearing a gray suit with a light shirt. Two days before, 
he had sent me a message asking whether I preferred him in full 
uniform or in civilian clothes, and I had answered, “I always prefer 
civilian clothes/’ But as with many military men, civilian clothes 
do not suit him, and this produced a certain clumsiness in him that 
communicated itself in all his gestures. His effort to make me feel 
welcome, for example, or so that I would judge him a perfect host. 
Goodness, wasn’t it too early an hour for me? Had I already had 
coffee? Would I like his little breakfast? Please, follow me to this 
other room. Please sit here. He sat down at the head of the table, 
his napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt, and when Moroldo 
made the gesture of taking the first photograph, Nha began a little 
dance of winks and black looks by which he begged him to remove 
the napkin from the collar of his shirt, for God’s sake. He didn’t 
understand. And with his imploring gaze, he seemed to reply, “But 
what are you saying? What do you want?” Then in the end he un¬ 
derstood. And took it off. Confused, blushing. But his sulky face 
seemed to comment, “But why? What’s wrong with it? Now I’ll get 
spots on my suit and my wife will get angry.” Nha was seated to his 
left, watching out for any error. I, to his right. The table was 
carefully set, the breakfast excessive. Fish soup, vegetables, meat 
rolls, sweets, tea, coffee, solicitude: “Eat, eat. It’s good, you know? 
It’s good when it’s hot. Come on, aren’t you hungry?” 

The conversation flourished as soon as I asked the first question: 
“But do you always wake up so early, Mr. President?” He was wait¬ 
ing impatiently for me to say something. His answer burst out. “Oh, 
yes! Almost always.” Just think, at six-thirty, to hear the news on the 
radio. But he stayed in bed until seven-thirty—to reflect a little. And at 
eight he was ready to meet with generals, ministers, and smoke his 
cigar. “Just one, eh?” “That’s enough for the whole day. For two 
years I’ve been doing it, two and a half, I mean ever since I gave up 
smoking a pipe. In fact, it’s not a good thing at all for a president to 
smoke a pipe, do you think? A cigar is better for a president, right?” 
Whoever told him that a president smokes cigars, not a pipe, God 
only knows. In any case, it could only have been an American, and 
this prattle immediately made you feel a little sorry for him. “Of 
course, Mr. President. That’s true.” 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


In the evening, he went on, he went to bed very late. Until two 
in the morning he never slept. Falling asleep, he left the radio on, 
and so the radio stayed on even while he slept. He was so used to 
sleeping with the radio on, even to distinguishing music from 
words in his sleep, that when the music stopped and the news 
began, he immediately opened his eyes and listened with a clear 
mind. By that I shouldn’t think, however, that he didn’t know how 
to enjoy life. Sometimes he played tennis, went horseback riding, 
and three or four times a week he had them show a film for him. 
Love stories, Westerns, judo, and karate. The only thing he didn’t 
have time to do was read. Takes too much attention, doesn’t it? “Of 
course, Mr. President. I understand.” 

Eating with appetite, even voracity, he told me stories of his 
youth, of his military career, of his participation in the coup d'etat 
against Diem, and the name of Diem evoked in him an unex¬ 
pected sadness. “They promised me not to kill him. 1 had said to 
them, 'All right, I’ll join you on condition that he’s not killed.’ In¬ 
stead they killed him, those idiots. Irresponsible madmen. It gave 
me a pain that I still have, here between my head and my heart. 
Each anniversary of his death I have a Mass said, here in my 
chapel. And I always pray for him, for his soul.” 

He seemed to be sincere. Nothing in him betrayed the diabolical 
shrewdness thanks to which he was to remain a tyrant protected by 
an army of a million men and by a police corps that carried out 
massacres. Little by little, you were even surprised to find yourself 
wondering if he was really as perfidious as they said. And you 
thought: maybe he doesn’t have that contented look because the 
bombs are falling on Hanoi; so much joviality is a comedy whose 
aim is to disguise his shyness as a former peasant. Maybe he didn’t 
start off with that business about power not being divisible, his le 
chef cest moi y ' because he is overbearing, but simply because he’s 
afraid of not being taken seriously. And strange, perhaps paradox¬ 
ical, even naive as it sounds: even knowing that he was a dark dic¬ 
tator, even knowing that the prisons of South Vietnam were full of 
Vietcong, even hating him and having always hated everything he 
represents, stolen and undeserved power, ignorance, corruption, 
obedience to the strongest, abuse, in spite of yourself and with 
anger you ended by feeling a human sympathy for him. 

He seemed so small, so lost, so alone. He seemed the very sym- 

4 8 


bol of a crushed, exploited country, humiliated by the interests of 
those who make and unmake the destiny of others like a toy: the 
global strategies of Dr. Kissinger. His minuet with China and Rus¬ 
sia. The cynicism of those who tell you one day, "You must make 
war on the communists! The communists are bad! You must kill 
them!’' And the next day tell you, "Why are you making war on 
the communists? The communists are not bad. There’s no need to 
kill them, don’t you understand? Sign here and have a cigar. Don’t 
smoke a pipe. American presidents have always smoked cigars.” He 
had rebelled through having realized that he had lost his friends and 
perhaps had never had friends, only masters. And now he was look¬ 
ing for friends. Even for an hour, for a morning, with a foreign 
newspaperwoman whom he had never seen and whom he knew 
was no friend of his. "Oh, Mademoiselle! Sometimes I feel as 
though there’s nothing left to do except pray to God, Mademoi¬ 

When breakfast was over—with all the discomfort that a Euro¬ 
pean can feel eating fish soup at eight in the morning—he asked 
me courteously if I would care to continue the interview in his of¬ 
fice. Perhaps Mr. Moroldo would prefer another background for his 
photographs. So we went into his office and there we stayed until 
half-past twelve. We spoke almost always in French, the language 
in which he studied. Only when he wanted to clarify an idea, in 
his desperate need to explain himself and to be understood at least 
by someone, he repeated the sentence in English. But his English 
is not good and so he asked Nha to come to his aid. Sometimes 
he had tears in his eyes. Sometimes his voice broke in a sob that 
was immediately choked back. And he trembled with rage, with 
pain, with passion. And also with dignity. “Messieurs les Ameri- 
cains y I told them. I have nothing to be sold to Russia and China! 
For me it is a question of life and death! To be or not to be!” In 
short, there was a certain dignity in him and in his tragedy. Had we 
understood him well? That, at least at that particular moment, he 
was no longer the ridiculous puppet of the Americans that we had 
believed him to be? And, since it is always good to redeem a man, 
any man, even a bad man, I was now glad to offer him some com¬ 
passion and a certain respect. 

Was I wrong? I’m afraid so, today. In fact, almost every time that 
I have tried to give compassion and respect to a government leader, 


Nguyen Van Thieu 

almost every time that I have tried to absolve even partially some 
famous son of a bitch, 1 have later been bitterly sorry. Despite all 
his chatter, Thieu soon signed what Kissinger wanted. And, once 
having signed, he kept his prisons full, refused to call the elections 
he had promised, and never opened negotiations with the 
Vietcong. So the war went on and now he has finally lost it, as he 
deserved to. 

ORIANA fallaci: Mr. President, it is no longer a secret that between 
you and the Americans today there exists more emnity than 
friendship. The harshness with which in October you rejected 
the agreement accepted by Kissinger, the coldness with which 
you received General Haig at Christmas, everything shows 
that you are now at swords’ points. And people are wondering 
what Thieu thinks of this drama. 

nguyen van THIEU: Mademoiselle, I am not the mysterious type 
that many believe. On the contrary, I’m a very open man. I 
never hide anything, even in politics, and 1 don’t listen to 
those who advise me not to say what I think or to say the op¬ 
posite. In fact, I always answer, “Instead one should say it. 
Loud and clear.” But when we come to a subject like this, I 
have to remember that I represent South Vietnam. As Presi¬ 
dent Thieu, I cannot allow myself the luxury of being an open 
enemy of the United States, which for better or worse is still 
my friend, my ally. Besides I promised Nixon that, even if 
conflicts should arise, we would still be allies and not consider 
ourselves enemies. Mademoiselle, can’t there perhaps be quar¬ 
rels between husbands and wives? And do they become ene¬ 
mies for that? Not only that, quarrels between a husband and 
wife should take place in the bedroom and after the door has 
been locked. Children should never see their parents in a hair¬ 
pulling match. It’s the same for friends. And it’s in my inter¬ 
est, in the interest of the United States, to avoid any public 
row that serves the communists. 

O.F.: I understand. But when I interviewed Dr. Kissinger, I had the 
impression that there was no love lost between you two and 
I’m a little surprised at your caution, Mr. President. 

n.v.t.: Vous savez, Mademoiselle, one must know how to forget. 
Yes, forget. When you’re running a country, you can’t afford 



to nourish rancor. My discussions with Dr. Kissinger have 
been very frank. At times, actually harsh. I’d go so far as to say 
very harsh. Nevertheless, basically they remained discussions 
between friends and—well, I must treat him as a friend. After 
his departure, all the journalists in Saigon asked me, “How 
goes the disagreement?” And I answered, “When you talk 
about disagreement, you must talk about agreement. Between 
the two of us there are agreements and disagreements.” Made¬ 
moiselle, I have said “no” to the Americans. What more do 
you want? When I say no, I mean no. But the moment hasn't 
come to announce to the world that everything is over. There 
is still hope for peace. I still have faith that peace will come. It 
may come even in a few weeks, in a month. It's no time to 
give up in desperation. 

O.F.: Then it's true that your “no” is a “no” d la vietnamienne . 
That is, a no that could mean yes. 

n.v.t. : Not at all. I repeat, when I say no, I mean no. And when I 
say, “I don't agree with you at all, Messieurs les Americains y 
though I remain your friend,” I mean that and nothing else. I 
have always maintained that Dr. Kissinger, as Nixon’s repre¬ 
sentative and negotiator, has the sacred duty of consulting ijie 
and reconciling my point of view with the American point of 
view. I have always expected the government of the United 
States to uphold my views and to help me convince the com¬ 
munists to modify their demands. And, so as not to be vague 
about it, I will tell you that there are two fundamental points 
accepted by Kissinger and rejected by me. One is the presence 
of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The other is 
the political formula that the North Vietnamese would like to 
impose on our future. Like the whole agreement, these two 
points have been conceived by the communists in Paris. So I 
explained to Dr. Kissinger that to accept them would mean to 
bow to the demands of the North Vietnamese. What the 
North Vietnamese demand is the loss of South Vietnam, the 
end of South Vietnam. Voila. 

O.F.: Couldn't you explain yourself better, Mr. President? 

n.v.t.: Mais vous savez , Madenoiselle, cest tr&s simple! The 
Americans say that in South Vietnam there are 145,000 North 
Vietnamese, I say there are 300,000, and anyway there's no 

Nguyen Van Thieu 51 

need to quibble. Whether the exact figure is theirs or mine 
(but it’s mine), to tolerate the presence of 300,000 North Viet¬ 
namese, sanctioned by a juridical agreement, ratified by an in¬ 
ternational conference and therefore by the whole world, is 
absolutely unacceptable. Because it's like recognizing their 
right to call themselves liberators, their right to maintain that 
Vietnam is one country from Hanoi to Saigon, but belonging 
to Hanoi and not to Saigon. Do I make myself clear, Made¬ 
moiselle? I maintain that to accept an army of 300,000 sol¬ 
diers in a country means to recognize the sovereignty of such 
an army over that country. It means to consider the North 
Vietnamese as liberators instead of aggressors. And con¬ 
sequently it means to consider the South Vietnamese army as 
a mercenary army of the Americans. In short, turning every¬ 
thing upside down. And this is what I said to Kissinger: "But, 
Dr. Kissinger, don’t you understand that by doing this you 
place the legal government of South Vietnam in the position 
of a puppet government installed by the Americans?” 

O.F.: But after the armistice, the North Vietnamese would with¬ 
draw from South Vietnam, wouldn’t they? 

n.v.t.: Eh bien , the agreement doesn’t say so at all. No, it doesn’t 
say so. That’s why I say to the North Vietnamese: "Let’s be 
honest. If you don’t have something at the back of your 
minds, if you really don’t intend to renew your aggression 
against South Vietnam, why do you insist so much on this 
business of leaving an army here? After all! You demand that 
the American troops withdraw within sixty days, you demand 
that I kick out our allies, and then you want me to keep the 
aggressor here. Mais cest foul It’s senseless, crazy!” 

O.F.: Mr. President, let’s be realistic. What is there to fear with an 
army of a million soldiers at your command? 

n.v.t.: Voild la question. Everybody asks me the same thing. "Mr. 
President, if you are so strong from the military and political 
standpoint, what are you worried about?” I’ll tell you what I’m 
worried about. It’s not at all difficult for a North Vietnamese 
to learn the accent of the South and pass himself off as a 
South Vietnamese. They too are Vietnamese. Among us 
they’re not at all recognizable like the Americans. Haven’t 
they already played that little trick in Laos with the Pathet 



Lao? In 1962, when the Americans withdrew from Laos, the 
North Vietnamese were also supposed to withdraw. But do 
you know that happened? The Americans went to the airport, 
and one by one, from the first general to the last soldier, they 
recorded their departure. We even knew the number: forty- 
eight persons. Instead the North Vietnamese stayed in the 
jungle speaking as Pathet Lao, disguised as Pathet Lao, and no 
control commission was ever able to find out how many there 
were. Mademoiselle, that's their system. Exactly the same 
thing would happen here. Isn’t it happening already? They 
learn the accent of the South, they spread through the vil¬ 
lages, they infiltrate Vietcong units and so become 300,000 
activists ready to come together again as an army. Messieurs les 
Americains , I say, does that sound acceptable to you? And then 
how come you’ve changed your minds? 

O.F.: Changed their minds about what? 

N. V.T.: Mademoiselle, I’ll give you an example. When a thief 

breaks into your house, there are two things you can do: either 
call the police or get rid of him yourself. But if you call the 
police, and the police come, and instead of arresting the thief 
say to you: “Come on, make peace with this thief, you must 
accept the fact that he’s already in your house, cheer up, sign 
this paper to legalize his presence in your house . . . ,” then 
I get mad. And I answer, “Eh, Mr. Policeman, have we gone 
crazy? First you tell me that we must arrest thieves, that we 
must call the police, that we must defend ourselves, and now 
you tell me that I must accept the thief in writing? How come? 
First you were so afraid of the thief, and now you aren’t any 
more? Now you actually authorize him to steal my things? 
Monsieur le policierl Mais alors /” 

O. F.: It really drives you out of your mind, doesn’t it, Mr. Presi¬ 


n.v.t.: Bien sur! Because, Mademoiselle, what kind of peace is a 
peace that gives the North Vietnamese the right to keep their 
troops here? What kind of treaty is a treaty that legalizes their 
presence here de facto? I proposed another solution, even 
though it was to my disadvantage. I said, “Let the North Viet¬ 
namese troops withdraw simultaneously with the American 
troops, then I promise to demobilize the same number of sol- 


Nguyen Van Thieu 

diers. If the North Vietnamese, for example, withdraw 
145,000 soldiers, I demobilize 145,000 soldiers. If they with¬ 
draw 300,000, I demobilize 300,000/' They didn't accept. 
Why? I know why. They need all their troops so as to have a 
fine bloodbath. 

O.F.: Mr. President, do you think that the ceasefire will bring about 
a bloodbath? 

N. v.T.: Oui bien sur! It's inevitable. There’s no need to take 

seriously what Pham Van Dong says in interviews and in his 
propaganda. He keeps saying that the North Vietnamese don't 
want a communist government in South Vietnam, they don't 
want a bloodbath in South Vietnam, they don't want to take 
over South Vietnam, but he only keeps saying it to quiet the 
Americans who are afraid of a bloodbath. Are we perhaps sup¬ 
posed to forget the massacres around Quang Tri, at An Loc, 
on Highway One, which is now called Horror Road? Are we 
supposed to forget what they did in 1968 in Hue, during the 
Tet offensive? And what did they do in Hanoi after they took 
power? I talked about this with Kissinger too. I told him: “Dr. 
Kissinger, so should we have fought for eighteen years, should 
we have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of human lives in 
order to have a million heads cut off after the cease-fire? I too 
want to go down in history as a man who brought peace. I too! 
If I sign what you want, within six months there'll be a blood¬ 
bath. And I care nothing for the applause of the moment, the 
people who cry, ‘Bravo, bravo, bravo! Vive la paixl’ I care 
about what happens afterward." 

O. F.: So, in your opinion, Nixon and Kissinger made a mistake. 

Mr. President, how do you explain the fact that they made 
a mistake? 

N.v.T.: It's simple; they were too impatient to make peace, too im¬ 
patient to negotiate and sign. When you deal with the com¬ 
munists, you mustn’t set a deadline. You mustn't tell them 
that you want to repatriate prisoners as soon as possible and 
conclude peace as soon as possible—otherwise they take ad¬ 
vantage of you. It's dangerous to tell them candidly, “The pris¬ 
oners must be home by Christmas. Peace must be reached 
before the end of the presidential mandate, before the new 
elections, before the New Year ..." It's a huge mistake be- 



cause they know the Western mentality, Western democracy, 
and so they blackmail you. They know very well that if the 
president of the United States sets a deadline, the whole 
Congress will be after him to make him keep his promise. And 
what are they able to show? That President Nixon is incapable 
of bringing peace by the date that he himself set. He himself! 
And they exploit the opposition, discredit the government, and 
... 1 told the Americans, “Be patient, one must be patient 
with the communists, more patient than they/' No use. 

O.F.: In other words, Mr. President, you expected just what has 

n.v.t.: Mademoiselle! North or South, we are all Vietnamese, and 
I know the Vietnamese a little better than the Americans. In 
1968, when the peace talks opened in Paris, many people 
asked me, “Mr. Thieu, when do you think the talks will end?” 
And I answered, “Vous savez ... If the communists agree to 
negotiate, it means that they need to negotiate. Not that they 
want peace. What they want is a bombing halt in order to 
catch their breath and launch another offensive. By taking ad¬ 
vantage of this pause, they'll try to inflict another Dien Bien 
Phu on us.” More or less what they did during the Geneva 
Conference of 1954. In Geneva they did nothing but waste 
time and they played the same game that they've been playing 
for four years in Paris. But when they won at Dien Bien Phu, 
they were quick to come to an agreement. If it hadn't been for 
Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Conference would still be going 

O.F.: Mr. President, allow me to think that this talk about patience 
wasn't the only thing you said to Kissinger. What else did you 
tell him? 

n.v.t. : Voila. You are a giant, I told him. You don't care about 
anything because you have nothing to be afraid of. You weigh 
two hundred pounds, and if you swallow the wrong pill you 
don't even notice it. Your organism neutralizes it. But I’m just 
a little man, maybe even a little sick. I weigh hardly a 
hundred pounds, and if I swallow the same pill I can die of it. 
You are a great boxer. You walk through the streets with your 
broad shoulders, your big muscles, and if someone punches 
you in the stomach, you don’t even notice it. At the most, you 


Nguyen Van Thieu 

turn around and look at him with a contemptuous smile. In¬ 
stead Fm a little boxer, and maybe Fm not even a boxer 
because my physical constitution won’t allow me such sport. If 
someone gives me the same punch, I fall on the ground like a 
rag. So you can allow yourself the luxury of accepting such an 
agreement. I can’t. To you a bad agreement blows neither hot 
nor cold. For me it’s a question of life and death. A lions, 
done / What are 300,000 North Vietnamese to you? Nothing. 
What is the loss of South Vietnam to you? Not even a speck 
on the map of the world. What’s more, the loss of South Viet¬ 
nam might even be to your convenience. It helps to contain 
China, it helps your world strategy. But for me, Messieurs les 
Americains , for me it’s not a question of choosing between 
Moscow and Peking. It’s a question of choosing between life 
and death. 

O.F.: I’d like to know what he answered! 

N.v.T.: Mademoiselle, his strategic idea of the world is very bril¬ 
liant. A Southeast Asia controlled by the Russians, or an In¬ 
dochina controlled by the Russians, in order to control and 
contain China. The Russians are less dangerous than the 
Chinese, so it’s necessary to ask the Russians to contain the 
Chinese and oppose Indochina to them as a threat on the 
southern borders of China, et cetera, et cetera, amen. Good, 
very good! It’s like a general who looks at the map and marks 
the strategic points. But for the poor captain leading his com¬ 
pany through rivers and woods, for the poor captain climbing 
hills under enemy fire and sleeping in trenches, in mud, it 
isn’t so good at all. He doesn’t have any global interests on this 
planet. He doesn’t even have anything to give in exchange. He 
doesn’t have the Middle East to exchange for Vietnam, Ger¬ 
many for Japan, Russia for China! He has only the question of 
life or death for seventeen and a half million inhabitants. And 
what he risks is to fall under the aegis of Hanoi. Or of Moscow 
and Peking, which is the same thing. 

Voila le probleme , Messieurs les Americains! You look very 
far, too far; we can’t allow ourselves to do that. You’re not 
only a great boxer, a giant, you’re also a very powerful busi¬ 
nessman and can afford the luxury of saying, “I’ve spent a 
dollar but now I must make an exchange, and business is busi- 



ness, money doesn't count, and allez hop! I don't mind getting 
back only ten cents. The ninety I lose . . . who gives a damn? 
Ninety cents are nothing!" For me it's not like that. If I buy a 
cigar and pay a dollar for it, I must resell it for a dollar ten. I 
need those ten cents to eat. I am a little country, my dear 
American friends. I don’t have your global interests; my only 
interest is in survival. Ah, these great powers who divide the 
world among themselves! They have an open market every¬ 
where and what does it matter if this market costs the life of a 
small country? 

O.F.: In other words, Mr. President, you think that Kissinger was 
about to sell Vietnam in the name of his world strategy. 

N. V.T.: Eh bien , I don't know if that was exactly his intention. It 

may even be that he believed, in good faith, that it was a good 
agreement. Anyway I told him: “Doctor . . . to be or not to 
be. That is the question for us!" 

O. F.: And so you won. At least for the moment. Your “no" pre¬ 

vented the agreement. At least for the moment. But for how 
long? Where does it put you, Mr. President, if the Americans 
sign without you? Kissinger said it clearly in his last press con¬ 
ference: “With respect to Saigon, if we reach an agreement 
that the president considers just, we will go ahead." 

n.v.t.: A lions done! To sign what? If they wanted to sign by them¬ 
selves, they would have already signed. They certainly 
wouldn’t have waited until today! The fact that they haven’t 
signed by the date set by themselves, with or without the con¬ 
sent of South Vietnam, allows me to think that President 
Nixon has thought it over and understood that such a signing 
would have meant abandoning South Vietnam. 

But I want to answer you in a more direct way, Mademoi¬ 
selle, because you are not the first person to ask me: “If the 
United States abandons you, what do you do?" Here's my an¬ 
swer: “I suppose we'll fight until the last cartridge and that 
then the communists will conquer us." It's certain. There can 
be no doubt. The French abandoned us in 1954, and as a 
result, half of Vietnam fell into communist hands. If the 
United States repeats what the French did, the other half of 
Vietnam will end up the same way. Because once the Ameri¬ 
cans have gone away with a signed agreement, the Russians 


Nguyen Van Thieu 

and Chinese won’t leave us in peace. And where is there 
another power that could help us like the United States has 
helped us? Maybe we’ll find other countries ready to give us a 
hand, but none of them would have the means of the United 
States. No, no, if America abandons us, for us it’s the end. 
The complete, absolute end, and there’s no use discussing it 
any more. Remember Tibet? No one intervened in Tibet, not 
even the United Nations, and now Tibet is communist. When 
a country cannot resist an invasion, there is nothing it can do 
but let itself be invaded. 

O.F.: Mr. President, doesn’t it seem to you that you’ve counted too 
much on the Americans? 

n.v.t.: 1 still can’t make such a judgment, Mademoiselle! The 
moment still hasn’t come for me to say, “I’ve been aban¬ 
doned.” I have to go on explaining myself to the Americans, 
who look too far ahead, if you see what I mean. Maybe I’ve 
counted on them too much, it’s true. But in my place you 
would have done the same. A small country like mine, to keep 
its independence, needs everything—from military aid to eco¬ 
nomic. Oh, sure I counted a lot on the Americans, sure! I still 
count on them, despite everything! If you don’t trust your 
friends, then who should you trust? A friend is like a wife. 
Until the day she abandons you or you abandon her, until the 
day you get a divorce, there has to be trust, doesn’t there? 

O.F.: Well, a little trust must have come back to you when the 
Americans resumed the bombing of Hanoi. Here in Saigon we 
said: “Thieu must have toasted the news with champagne!” 

n.v.t. : Let’s get one thing straight. Nobody loves war. I certainly 
don’t love war. Having to make war gives me no joy. So the 
bombing of Hanoi doesn’t make me drink champagne, just as 
the rockets falling on Saigon don’t make me drink champagne. 
But frankly, and since this war exists, we have to do it. And on 
the day when these bombings are again suspended, I’ll ask Mr. 
Nixon: “Why? What do you hope to achieve that way? What 
do you think you’ve achieved?” No, I won’t be the one to pray 
for the bombings to end. They have a purpose, and if we want 
to achieve that purpose, we have to bomb. Mademoiselle, 
speaking as a soldier, I tell you that the shorter the war the less 
atrocious it is. 



O.F.: That’s what advocates of the atomic bomb say, Mr. President. 

n.v.t. : I’m not an advocate of the atomic bomb. I’m not talking 
about the atomic bomb. I’m talking about . . . Have you ever 
heard of gradualism? Well, in my opinion, gradualism is no 
way to cure an illness. Especially when the illness has been 
going on a long time, it should be cured in a hurry, with dras¬ 
tic medicine. Mademoiselle, war is an illness. Nobody likes it, 
but when it gets a grip on you, it has to be cleared up quickly. 
Without gradualism. The gradualism of President Johnson was 
untenable. He never realized this simple truth: either you fight 
a war or you don’t. And the gradualism pursued by the Ameri¬ 
cans after Johnson has been the same. The Americans have 
been bombing for years, not bombing, bombing again, reduc¬ 
ing, escalating, above the twentieth parallel, below the twen¬ 
tieth parallel . . . But what is all this? War? That’s not war, 
it’s half a war. C’est une demi-guerre. So far we have fought 
half a war, une demi-guerre. And 1 tell you that had we at¬ 
tacked North Vietnam with a classical war, had we continually 
bombed North Vietnam, had we landed troops in North Viet¬ 
nam, the war would be over today. And let me add that if 
peace negotiations fail, there is only one way to end this war: 
to carry the war to North Vietnam. In every sense, including 
landing troops. 

O.F.: Do you mean to say that landing troops is still under consider¬ 

N.V.T.: Why not, if the Americans are ready to do it? If the Ameri¬ 
cans can’t do it, nobody can! But let me explain better. When 
I was defense minister and the Americans began bombing in 
June 1965, one of them asked me, “Monsieur le Ministre , do 
you think these bombings will end the war in three months?” 
And I answered, “It depends on you Americans.” Then I 
repeated the example of the boxer. “You are a big boxer and 
North Vietnam is a little boxer. If you want to, you can knock 
him down in the first round. If you don’t want to and you 
prolong the match until the ninth round, the public may get 
discouraged and demand its money back. But even worse: if 
while prolonging the match you get a cramp, that little oppo¬ 
nent might even beat you. A lions, done! Soyez de grands box - 
eursl Knock him down in the first round. You’ll never get any- 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


where by bombing gradually. On the contrary, you'll furnish 
Giap with an argument to maintain that a small country like 
North Vietnam can resist American might. They are putting 
you to the test, Messieurs les Americainsl Don’t go through the 
motions of bombing, don’t fight a psychological war, fight a 

Mademoiselle, all of us have been through American bom¬ 
bardments. I’ve been through them myself, in 1942, when the 
Japanese were here. And I remind you that it’s not so difficult 
to endure bombing—after a while you get in the habit, espe¬ 
cially if you have good shelters. Thus, after the first bombings, 
the North Vietnamese were completely discouraged. And the 
morale of the population was low, and in Hanoi they were ex¬ 
pecting a landing. But the Americans didn’t insist, and . . . 
The Americans kill for five minutes, then they give four min¬ 
utes breathing space, then they kill again. . . . 

O.F.: Mr. President, allow me to be naive. Or simply human. 
Don’t you feel uneasy at the thought that those poor wretches 
on whom the bombs are falling in Hanoi are Vietnamese like 

N. v.T.: Mademoiselle! I know very well that they’re Vietnamese 

like myself. Deep in my heart, I don’t enjoy it at all. But 1 also 
know that to end a war you have to bomb them, and I know 
that the end of the war in South Vietnam means the end of 
the war in North Vietnam. Don’t you think that they’ve had 
enough of it too? Do you think that they suffer only from the 
bombings? Can you imagine what it means to sustain the bur¬ 
den of an expeditionary force to the South? They have nothing 
to eat because of that expeditionary force. And they’ve had so 
many dead by now! Together with the Vietcong, from 1964 
to today, they have had 1,057,000 dead. Look, I have it here 
in my secret documents. And then they suffer from something 
else, the North Vietnamese. They suffer from a regime that 
isn’t suited to their mentality, to their way of life. Commu¬ 
nism is no good for the Vietnamese. They are too individ¬ 
ualistic, and I assure you that only a few million out of twenty 
million in the North are communists. I assure you that the 
great majority of them would rise up if there were a landing. 

O. F. : Which seems to me unlikely with all the problems that Nixon 



has to face with Congress, the Senate, with public opinion 
that has had enough of this war and demands that he give it 
up, Mr. President. 

N. V.T.: That's another matter. I know Nixon's problems; it's no ac¬ 

cident that I was the first to applaud his doctrine. In June 
1969, when I made that trip to Taiwan and South Korea, 
Chiang Kai-shek and Chung Hee Park asked me, “But what’s 
going on? Is it true that the Americans want to withdraw their 
troops from Vietnam? Why do you accept such a thing? Why 
don't you ask them to stay until the end of the war?" And I an¬ 
swered, “It's not a matter of preventing the Americans from 
withdrawing their troops. It's a matter of resolving the problem 
by replacing their troops with an army of my own. Namely, 
the army they should have given me a long time ago.” Yes, 
Mademoiselle. In 1954, when the French pulled out, the 
Americans had already foreseen that the North Vietnamese 
would attack us just as the North Koreans had attacked South 
Korea. And if they had furnished us with an army, there 
would have been no need to ask for their help. We asked them 
to come in order to resolve an immediate problem, not for¬ 
ever. And when I realized that, by their presence in South 
Vietnam, two American presidents risked being sent to the 
devil, I said, “Help me to help you. Give us a strong army. 
We'll fight alone." And I agreed with Nixon on Vietnamiza- 
tion, and Nixon began to withdraw his troops, and when in 
the history of war has anyone seen an army of over a half 
million men withdrawn in four years? The only thing Ameri¬ 
can that’s left is the air force. And Vietnamization has worked 
splendidly, as everyone recognizes, and things have gone just 
as I said. I had even said that there would be an attack before 
the American elections, another in 1975 . . . 

O. F.: Mr. President, allow me one observation. I'm not at all sure 

that everyone recognizes the success of Vietnamization. If it 
hadn't been for the American air force, the North Vietnamese 
would have won their Easter offensive. 

N.V.T.: Oui. D’accord. But Vietnamization couldn't be done in a 
day, Mademoiselle. Not even in a year. We knew it would 
take from five to seven years, and so it’s not yet finished. It's 
true that we would have lost in the face of Giap's attack, if it 

Nguyen Van Thieu 61 

hadn’t been for American air power. But who took Quang Tri 
and Binh Dinh? Who stopped the North Vietnamese at An 
Loc and Kontum? The Americans maybe? Vietnamization 
will be complete only when our air force has been strength¬ 

O.F.: Strengthened, Mr. President? But you have plenty of planes, 
helicopters, reconnaissance planes, cargo planes, while the 
North Vietnamese have nothing but two or three MiGs! 
When one arrives at the Saigon airport . . . 

N. v.T.: We have the planes but we don’t have the pilots, Mademoi¬ 

selle. We don’t have the technicians. We still have to teach 
them, to train them. And that takes a year or two. Why didn’t 
we do it before? Because first we had to see to the army! I 
always said that we wouldn’t be ready before 1973. That’s why 
the communists demand the suppression of the Vietnamiza¬ 
tion program and are afraid of it. Do you know how long it 
takes to create a modern army? 

O. F.: Mr. President, I don’t understand anything any more. We 

started talking more or less about peace, and here we are talk¬ 
ing again about war. Do you want to end the war or win the 

N.v.T.: I want to end it, Mademoiselle. I’m not looking for victories 
like Giap. And speaking as a soldier, not a politican, let me 
say, what do we have to win by this war? If we sign a peace 
treaty tomorrow, what will we have won in South Vietnam? 
I’ll tell you what. Inflation, hundreds of thousands of dead, 
God know how many cities destroyed, a million refugees, a 
million soldiers to be paid each month . . . Fighting the war 
in your own country really means to have lost the war, even it 
the victory is set down in black and white in an armistice. In 
fact, the art of war is to carry the war into enemy territory', to 
destroy in enemy territory, as Giap could explain to you very 
well. In that sense, he has every right to say that he’s won the 
war. And again I ask you: If we sign a peace treaty tomorrow, 
what have we won? Have we perhaps conquered a square inch 
of territory' in North Vietnam? Have we perhaps won a seat in 
the North Vietnamese parliament? We have won nothing, 
nothing. We have lost in order to exchange our defeat for a 
peace treaty. Mademoiselle! They’ve called me intransigent. 



How can a man be called intransigent who is ready to negoti¬ 
ate with the NLF, a man who is ready to step down a month 
before the elections? Are the various Pham Van Dongs, Le 
Duans, Vo Nguyen Giaps ready to negotiate with me? Are 
they ready to step down? 

O.F.: So how long will this war last, Mr. President? Years, months, 

n.v.t.: Did you ever put that question to Giap? 

O.F. : Yes, but almost four years ago. 

n.v.t.: And what did he answer? 

O.F.: He told me the war might even go on for twenty years. 

n.v.t.: Voila la reponse . This war will go on for as long as Giap 
wants, that is for as long as he wants to impose it on us. If I 
were able to carry the war to the North, as he has brought it to 
the South, then you would have every right to put such a 
question to me and insist on an answer. But now I can only 
give you an opinion. Either peace will come within a few 
weeks, let's say a month, or the war will go on for another 
three or four years. It's too difficult to stop a war based on 
guerrillas. How many guerrillas were there in Malaya? Ten 
thousand? And how long did it take the British to beat them? 
Twelve years. It's hard to fight a war being waged by hoo¬ 

O.F.: Did you tell that to General Haig when he came here? Be¬ 
cause from what I understand, you didn't exactly throw your 
arms around each other, you and Haig. 

n.v.t.: Eh bieri y Mademoiselle, vous savez ... He calls me Mr. 
President, I call him Mr. General, or rather General, so . . . 
We didn't have much to say to each other. I said to him, “So 
here you are, General. Tell me in what capacity you're here." 
And he answered, “I’m here to explain President Nixon's point 
of view." Then I pointed out to him that he wasn't even here 
as a negotiator, he was here only as a messenger. “Let's hear 
this point of view, General." He explained it to me. I listened 
and then told him only that I would answer Nixon directly, by 
a personal letter. And I would give this letter to him, Haig, in 
his capacity as messenger. Haig went away, next day he came 
back, and I gave him the letter. “Vof/d la lettre , mon general. 
Bon voyage. Au revoir. yy I keep explaining myself to the Ameri- 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


cans. And I go on and on, in the hope that they’ll understand 
me. The day that they tell me, “We don’t understand you, 
Mr. Thieu, and so we abandon you ...” Bon! You’ll see me 
react to their peace. Until that day ... Of course I’m ready 
to receive Kissinger again! I’m always expecting him to come 
to Saigon to see me. 1 don’t understand why he hasn’t yet 
come. Maybe he thought it wasn’t the right moment. . . . 
Maybe he’s about to reach an agreement that to him seems 
just. . . . Maybe he’s about to come and tell me, “Mr. Presi¬ 
dent, in my opinion the moment has come to sign a peace 
treaty.” Then I’ll tell him, “Have a seat. Let’s take a look at 
what kind of peace you’re talking about.” 

O.F.: And are you ready to invite him to breakfast, as you’ve invited 

n.v.t.: Why not? If the North Vietnamese offered him tea and bis¬ 
cuits, why shouldn’t 1 offer him breakfast? My manners are as 
good as Le Due Tho’s. And you can always try to discuss 
things while eating, as long as it doesn’t ruin your digestion. 
I’m not an enemy of Dr. Kissinger. I’m not even an enemy of 
the North Vietnamese as North Vietnamese. My only enemies 
are the communists when they want to bring communism 
here. They can keep it in their own house for as long as they 
like. Mademoiselle, when the war is over, I’ll be more than 
ready to shake hands with Giap. And even go to have supper 
in his home. And say to him, “ Alors , mon general! Let’s talk a 
little. You’re from the North, I’m from the South. You have a 
lot of coal and I have a lot of rice. Let’s build a beautiful 
railroad from Hanoi to Saigon and exchange our goods. Now 
thanks for the supper, and when will I have the honor of 
receiving you as my guest in Saigon?” 

O.F.: How many times you’ve mentioned the name of Giap, Mr. 
President! One would say that you always have that name in 
mind! What do you think of Giap? 

n.v.t.: Mademoiselle, I think he’s been a good general but by no 
means the Asian Napoleon that he thinks he is. Giap’s 
greatness was invented by the French press after Dien Bien 
Phu. And Dien Bien Phu is still his only great victory, though 
it wasn’t the extraordinary victory he thinks it was and that the 
French have always maintained in their newspapers. From a 

6 4 


military standpoint, Dien Bien Phu was an easy battle for 
Giap. The French had nothing at Dien Bien Phu: neither 
planes, nor tanks, nor artillery. Giap had only to use waves of 
assault troops and the tactic of rotating his divisions. Let's be 
honest. What did the French really lose at Dien Bien Phu? 
Not even a tenth of their army. Any French general who was 
in Indochina at the time will tell you that the French army 
was by no means completely defeated; if Paris had sent them 
reinforcements, they would have been able to defend even 
North Vietnam. 

The French didn't lose the war at Dien Bien Phu because of 
Giap. The war was lost at Dien Bien Phu because it had al¬ 
ready been lost in France, politically, psychologically, mor¬ 
ally. It's Giap who's got the idea in his head that he did some¬ 
thing militarily decisive at Dien Bien Phu. And ever since he's 
done nothing but look for his new Dien Bien Phu, without 
understanding that a modern army today hasn't much in com¬ 
mon with the French army in the 1950s. Giap's error, in this 
war, has been not to recognize the extraordinary strength of 
the American army and also to underestimate my army. 

O.F.: Mr. President, we've been talking about the North Vietnam¬ 
ese and nothing else. So I think the moment has come to talk 
about the Vietcong and the other disagreement you had with 

n.v.t.: Tres bien. I maintain that the political formula accepted by 
the Americans in October is an untrustworthy formula by 
which the North Vietnamese are trying to impose a coalition 
government on us. I maintain that we'll never accept such a 
formula, no matter how it's disguised, since I'm not imposing 
any government on Hanoi and I don't want Hanoi to impose 
something on Saigon. The constitution of North Vietnam says 
that Vietnam is one, indivisible, from Lao Kai to Ca Mau. 
The constitution of South Vietnam says the same. Vietnam is 
one from Ca Mau to Lao Kai, and so forth. But there is still a 
de facto situation: two states within this nation. The state of 
North Vietnam and the state of South Vietnam, each with its 
own government, its own parliament, its own constitution. 
Therefore each of the two states must decide its political future 
without the other interfering. Like Germany. Like Korea. Do 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


I make myself clear? I said two states, two states, two states. 
Like Korea. Like Germany. Two states waiting for reunifica¬ 
tion. When such a reunification will come, God only knows. 
Personally I can’t see it happening before another twenty years 
or so, and for this reason I have always asked that North Viet¬ 
nam and South Vietnam be admitted to the United Nations. 

O.F.: But the Vietcong exist, Mr. President, and they are South 
Vietnamese. They should participate in the political life of 
South Vietnam. 

n.v.t.: Yes, but without interference on the part of North Viet¬ 
nam. So I say: let the political future of South Vietnam be 
decided by ourselves and the communists of South Vietnam. I 
agree to negotiate with the NLF, I agree to organize elections 
with them, I agree to having them as a political party in the 
future. But this is a matter of South Vietnamese politics, not 
North Vietnamese politics! I don’t want impositions by Hanoi; 
I want to negotiate freely with the NLF! But how can I do so if 
the North Vietnamese stay here disguised as Vietcong? Made¬ 
moiselle, not even the Liberation Front could negotiate freely 
with me while having three hundred thousand North Viet¬ 
namese armed with artillery weapons on its back! So I repeat: 
leave us alone, us and the Vietcong. We’ll understand each 
other better, and more quickly. We are all South Vietnamese 
and I know' that most of the Vietcong who have been fighting 
for twenty years don’t want to invade South Vietnam! How 
could they if they are South Vietnamese? I know that they 
only want to participate in the political life of the country 
and . . . 

O.F.: Have you ever tried to open talks with them, Mr. President? 

n.v.t.: But how can I if the North Vietnamese are here? How can 
they if the North Vietnamese are here? This is what I keep on 
repeating to the Americans and what they don’t understand. 
Let’s suppose that I want to meet with Madame Binh, some¬ 
thing by the way that I might even like to do. How can I? How 
can she? Madame Binh isn’t free to speak to me; her spokes¬ 
men are the North Vietnamese! I tell you, Mademoiselle, that 
only when the North Vietnamese leave will the Vietcong feel 
free to come and speak with me. And they’ll come. Because 
I’ll invite them, and because they will no longer be controlled 



by others. The fact is that . . . Mademoiselle, two or three 
years ago we had something here called the “Chu Hoi move- 
ment.” Chu Hoi means, more or less, “Vietcong deserter.” 
Well, at a certain point their number was very high: about two 
hundred thousand. And this worried the North Vietnamese 
immensely, because, obviously, if you let the Chu Hoi con¬ 
tinue there’d be no NLF left. So what did the North Vietnam¬ 
ese do? They scattered themselves through the villages and in 
Vietcong units to replace the Vietcong or keep them from 
deserting. And . . . don’t you understand that this second dis¬ 
agreement with Dr. Kissinger is a result of the first? Don’t you 
understand that the main problem is still the presence of those 
three hundred thousand North Vietnamese? 

O.F.: Yes, Mr. President, but you go a little further by rejecting ipso 
facto a coalition government. If you are ready to accept the 
Vietcong in the politics of South Vietnam, why do you reject 
the idea of a coalition government? 

n.v.t.: Because what I said so far doesn’t at all mean a coalition 
government, it simply means Vietcong participation in the 
elections! Because what I reject is the demand by other people 
for a coalition government! A government is the result of elec¬ 
tions—yes or no? So even if one day there should even be a 
government in Saigon completely controlled by the commu¬ 
nists, this will have to come about through elections. Yes or 
no? Not a prefabricated government. Not a government im¬ 
posed by Hanoi. What am I basically asking for? Three 
months for discussions with the NLF, plus three months to 
come to an agreement with the NLF and organize the elec¬ 
tions, and finally the elections on a one-man-one-vote basis. 
AlIons y done! But what do they expect of me? What, more 
than this? I represent a legal government, and I submit to 
holding discussions with those who would like illegally to take 
my place, I agree to having them in the elections . . . God 
damn it! I even accept the possibility that they may win, 
though I’m ready to bet that won’t happen; I’ll cut my throat if 
they win . . . No, no, Mademoiselle. They represent too 
small a percentage of the population. Their number is around 
one hundred thousand. From fifty thousand to one hundred 
thousand and . . . 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


O.F. : Plus those who are now in prison. Mr. President, your analy¬ 
sis may even be convincing, at first. But examined in the light 
of those facts you don't mention, it's less convincing. How can 
you organize real elections with the thousands of Vietcong and 
suspected Vietcong who fill the prisons and concentration 
camps of South Vietnam? 

n.v.t.: I'll answer that reproach right away. When you're at war, 
it's obvious that you put in prison anyone working for the 
enemy who is making war on you. It happens in every coun¬ 
try. C’est las normalite , Mademoiselle. And those who today 
are in prison are those who have participated in acts of murder 
or other atrocities. And there are less of them than you think. 
Nevertheless, when peace comes, even their problem will be 
resolved. I ask nothing better than an exchange of prisoners. 
Civilians, military, everybody. Well, the North Vietnamese 
have refused this too. And I say, how come? I am ready to 
exchange ten thousand North Vietnamese prisoners of war and 
some thousands of civilian detainees for five hundred Ameri¬ 
can POWs. I’m ready to give free passage to all of them, 
North Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietcong, civil¬ 
ians, all of them, and they’re still not happy! Certainly such 
an exchange would have to take place when the war is over, 
not before! Do you know what the real problem is? It’s that the 
Americans have shown too much anxiety, too much concern 
about those five hundred prisoners in Hanoi, and now the 
North Vietnamese use them as though they were merchandise 
to impose their political conditions. It’s disgusting. 

O.F.: And the neutralists, Mr. President? From what I understand, 
they constitute the majority of a population that’s had enough 
of everything: Thieu, the Vietcong, the Americans, the North 
Vietnamese, the war . . . 

n.v.t. : They’re not the majority of the population. If it were as you 
say, Mademoiselle, I wouldn’t be here. Believe me, the great 
majority of the South Vietnamese has great fear of the com¬ 
munists. A fear that was crystallized by the Tet offensive and 
by the massacres that took place around the time of the Easter 
offensive. There's no other way to explain what happened here 
during the flag campaign. All I had to do was say the word and 
everybody bought a flag or painted the colors of our flag on the 



fapades of their houses. Do you really think that certain things 
can be imposed by an order? Mademoiselle ... I look on the 
neutralists as poor innocents, or rather poor idiots, and don't 
let myself worry about them. I feel very sorry for them, the 
neutralists, because they lend themselves to the communist 
game. They're so naive. They think they’re acting politically 
and they let the communists lead them by the nose. It would 
be better if they joined the Vietcong units and fought with 
weapons. I'd have much more respect for them. This way they 
are neither politicians nor soldiers, they take risks on one side 
or the other, and . . . Soyons serieux , Mademoiselle! How 
can anyone be a neutralist in Vietnam? 

O.F.: Is this why you've issued a decree suppressing opposition par¬ 
ties in Vietnam, Mr. President? 

N. V.T.: Mon Dieul The decree isn't to suppress them. It's to en¬ 

courage them to unite. There are twenty-seven legal political 
parties in South Vietnam, plus forty illegal ones. Such an 
abundance would be a luxury even in peacetime—just imag¬ 
ine in time of war. And let's not forget that our constitution 
encourages the two-party system. Now let's suppose that the 
peace agreement is signed in Paris, let's suppose that in* three 
months we arrive at an understanding with the NLF—what 
happens? What happens is that, at the moment when we are 
fighting the communists in the game called democracy, an 
electoral battle takes place where the communists are on one 
side and twenty-seven legal political parties and forty illegal 
ones are on the other. Isn't it better to regroup a little, if we 
want to win? So I said, let's regroup our minor parties into no 
more than six major parties. Mademoiselle, ga suffit! It seems 
to me enough for a country of seventeen and a half million in¬ 
habitants! Politics doesn't have to be irresponsibility. Allons , 

O. F.: Mr. President, we've been talking a lot about democracy and 

elections. So I feel entitled to ask you a disagreeable question. 
What do you have to say to those who call you the dictator of 
South Vietnam? 

n.v.t.: Tiens! I knew you'd ask that! Mademoiselle, I don't know if 
we should take this down too on your tape recorder, but . . . 
take a look at the countries of Southeast Asia and then tell me 

6 q 

Nguyen Van Thieu 

which ones can be called democratic according to your con¬ 
cept of democracy. Thailand? Korea? The Philippines? Made¬ 
moiselle! ... In all sincerity, it seems to me that South Viet¬ 
nam is still the most democratic country. Maybe not as 
democratic as you would like, but democracy is not a standard 
that can be applied in an identical way everywhere. Democ¬ 
racy as they have it in America, or as you have it in Europe, 
cannot exist here yet. We’re not yet ready for it. Don’t forget 
that Vietnam has never known a democratic life in the sense 
that you give to this expression. Up until 1945 we were a 
French colony. Until 1954 we were dominated by the Viet- 
minh. Until 1963 we were under President Diem. So I allow 
myself to state that democracy, here, only began to exist in 
1963 when Thieu became president. 

O.F.: But what kind of democracy is a democracy that offers only a 
single candidate in elections? In the 1971 elections you didn’t 
even have an opponent, Mr. President! 

n.v.t.: TieriSy tiens. Mademoiselle! We must judge these things in 
the context of South Vietnam. We must remember that the 
president elected in 1971 would be the president who would 
discuss peace. We must remember that just at that time, that 
is when there was no longer any political stability because my 
opponents had withdrawn their candidacies, the North Viet¬ 
namese were grouping their divisions beyond the demilitarized 
zone and along the frontier with Cambodia, in preparation for 
launching a new offensive. Well, while this was happening, a 
lot of people came to me and said, ‘‘Mr. Thieu, if the others 
withdraw their candidacies, you too must withdraw. Otherwise 
it’s not democracy.” And I answered, “Our constitution 
doesn’t stipulate that the elections are annulled if there is only 
one candidate. It doesn’t even say that a single candidate must 
step aside or look for an opponent. That takes at least six or 
seven months. In six or seven months the North Vietnamese 
have all the time they need to complete their preparations for 
an offensive and to attack us I say. To attack us just at the time 
when we are without military and political leadership. Good-by 
South Vietnam. So say what you like. I’m staying. What’s 
your next question, Mademoiselle? 

O.F.: A brutal question, Mr. President. I hate to be brutal, espe- 



daily since you’ve been so nice to me, inviting me to breakfast 
and so forth, but I have in mind a series of brutal questions. 
Here’s the first: What have you to say about the fact that 
you’re called an ‘'American puppet” or the “man of the Amer¬ 

n.v.t.: Who says that? 

O.F. : Everyone. Almost everyone. Does it really surprise you? 

n.v.t. : Do the Americans say so too? 

O.F.: Yes, many Americans. 

n.v.t.: Ah! Tiens! Uhm . . . Mademoiselle! I am the man of the 
Vietnamese, not the man of the Americans. Even less am I an 
American puppet, as I think I’ve recently shown. Even in this 
interview. I'm an ally of the Americans, that's all. Go on, 

O.F. : I'll go on. Question number two. What do you have to say to 
those who accuse you of being corrupt, the most corrupt man 
in Vietnam? 

n.v.t.: Mademoiselle, it’s not even worth the trouble to answer. 
What should I answer? Once the machine to throw slander on 
a president starts going, there’s no stopping it. Such accusa¬ 
tions don’t happen by error—they happen for a precise pur¬ 
pose. You can correct an error, but not a purpose. I say to you 
only: have you ever seen a president’s daughter living in a 
boardinghouse run by nuns in London? That’s where mine 

O.F. : Well, then let’s put it another way, Mr. President. Is it true 
that you were born very poor? 

n.v.t.: Very true. My father was an orphan at the age of ten. And 
when he got married, my mother supported the family by 
bringing baskets of rice and coconuts to the village market. 
Thirteen days after the birth of her first child, she had to sell 
their hut and move to the other side of the river, because she 
had no money. And, thanks to her, my elder brother was able 
to study in Paris. My younger brother was able to study in 
Hue. But I had to study in the village school. We’re a family 
of self-made men—today my brothers are ambassadors. But 
my sisters still carry chickens and baskets of rice to the market 
to sell like my mother did. Oui, cest vrai. 

O.F.: And is it true that today you’re immensely rich, with bank ac- 

Nguyen Van Thieu 71 

counts and houses in Switzerland, London, Paris, and Austra¬ 

N. V.T.: It's not true. I swear to you on the head of my daughter and 

of my son that I own nothing abroad. Neither a house in Lon¬ 
don, nor a house in Paris, nor a house in Australia, nor a 
house in Switzerland. I heard the story about the house in 
Switzerland some time ago through some Americans. And I 
answered, “Messieurs les Americains , you have all the neces¬ 
sary technology to discover this house, all the necessary cam¬ 
eras to photograph it. Bring me photographs of this house.” 

I only own something in Vietnam, and you want to know 
what? An apartment in General Headquarters where, being a 
general, I am entitled to two small bachelor apartments. So 
I’ve combined them into one. I’ve modernized it a little, and I 
keep it as a place to go on weekends. But it doesn’t really 
belong to me, it belongs to the army. And I’ll give it back to 
the army, transformed into a museum. Then I have a wooden 
house on the river, where I go when I want to water-ski. It’s a 
prefabricated house, very cheap. It was given to me by the 
lumbermen’s union. Then I have the house where I was born, 
which is the poorest in the village. People go by it and laugh. 
“Look at the house of President Thieu!” Finally I own a little 
land where I enjoy making agricultural experiments. And 
there I grow rice and melons; I raise chickens, geese, pigs, and 
even fish, since there’s a pond. That’s all. 

Since I’ve been president, I haven’t even bought a car—in¬ 
stead I use President Diem’s. It’s an old Mercedes with an 
engine that’s always breaking down. Can you imagine the 
president of Vietnam returning solemnly from some trip, get¬ 
ting off the plane, and getting into this Mercedes that starts 
and all of a sudden stops? So that the military police have to 
push it in the hope of starting up the motor, and bang! bang! 
bang! While the president is cursing, “God damn it! 1 must 
buy a car!” Go on, Mademoiselle. 

O. F.: I’m going on, Mr. President. Question number four. Aren’t 

you afraid of being killed? For instance, assassinated like Presi¬ 
dent Diem? 

n.v.t.: No. Frankly, no. I believe in God and in the fact that he 
protects me. Mind you, it’s not that I’m a one-hundred-per- 



cent fatalist. In other words, I don't believe that God is always 
there to protect you and that it's therefore useless to protect 
yourself. On the contrary, I think that one should do every¬ 
thing possible to give God a hand and help him to protect 
you. But there's a limit to everything, and in the end I con¬ 
clude, “1 do my duty and defend myself from the risks that 
such duty involves. The rest is up to God. Even he should 
take some responsibility for me, riest-ce-pas? After all, it's a 
question of mutual trust!" Joking aside, Mademoiselle, it 
wouldn't be at all difficult to kill me. I shake hands with every¬ 
body and don't pay much attention; my security agents do 
nothing but complain. And I keep insisting, “Messieurs les 
agents , quest-ce que cest que ga?l I do my job, you do yours. 
If you can't do it, so much the worse for you and me. I don't 
give a damn. Je men /bus." I don't give a damn because . . . 
how can you avoid being killed if someone really wants to do 
it? Last week I reviewed five thousand men of the defense 
forces. Each one had a loaded rifle and all that was needed to kill 
me was a single bullet from a single rifle. Nothing is simpler 
than to assassinate a president of Vietnam. But why should 
they since I've told them that it's not worth the trouble, that I 
prefer to go away alive rather than dead? Furthermore, I'm not 
obsessed by the idea of dying. And I've shown it by participa¬ 
ting in God knows how many battles until 1965, even recently 
facing the North Vietnamese artillery and Vietcong gunfire. 
No one forced me to go to Quang Tri, to Binh Long, or Kon- 
tum. I was a president, not a general at the front! And still I 
went. I prayed to the Holy Virgin and then I went. 

O.F.: You're very religious, eh? 

N.V.T.: Oui, oui , oui! Beaucoup! Beaucoupl Every Sunday I hear 
Mass in my chapel and every evening I pray. I also prayed that 
my troops would retake Quang Tri without spilling too much 
blood. I even prayed when Dr. Kissinger came here to try to 
get me to accept things I couldn’t accept. I'm a true Catholic. 
I was converted after thinking about it for eight years. My wife 
was already a Catholic when I married her in 1951, and since 
the Church insisted that the marriage was valid only if I con¬ 
verted, I went to the priest and told him, “Monseigneur, I’m 
an officer and I'm fighting a war. I have no time to study the 

Nguyen Van Thieu 


catechism. Give me time. When the war is over, I promise 
you, 111 study the catechism and convert/’ Then the war 
ended and I kept my promise. But it wasn’t as easy as I 
thought. I wanted to understand everything and I drove that 
poor priest crazy with my questions. He was a country priest, 
he didn’t know how to answer. I had to find me a Dominican 
father and . . . Voyez bien , Mademoiselle, anything 1 do I like 
to do well. Whether it’s being converted, or playing tennis, or 
riding a horse, or holding the office of president. I like respon¬ 
sibility more than power. That’s why I say that power should 
never be shared with others. That’s why I’m always the one to 
decide! Always! 1 may listen to others suggest some decision, 
and then make the opposite decision. Oui , cest moi qui de¬ 
cide. If one doesn’t accept responsibility, one isn’t worthy to be 
the chief and . . . Mademoiselle, ask me this question, 
“Who’s the chief here?” 

O.F.: Who’s the chief here? 

n.v.t.: I am! I’m the chief! Moi! C’est moi le chef! 

O.F.: Thank you, Mr. President. Now I think I can go. 

N. v.T.: Are you leaving? Have we finished? Are you satisfied, Ma¬ 

demoiselle? Because if you’re not satisfied, you must tell me. 
Mademoiselle, I hope you’re satisfied because I’ve hidden 
nothing from you and I’ve spoken to you with complete frank¬ 
ness. I swear. I didn’t want to in the beginning. But then . . . 
what can 1 do? That’s the way I am. Come on, tell me. Did 
you ever expect to find such a fellow? 

O. F.: No, Mr. President. 

N.v.t.: Merci , Mademoiselle. And, if you can, pray for peace in 
Vietnam. Peace in Vietnam means peace in the world. And 
sometimes I feel as though there’s nothing left to do except 
pray to God. 

Saigon , January 1973 


General Giap 

He was the man whose name was most often heard during the 
Vietnam war. And not because he was minister of defense in 
Hanoi, commander in chief of the armed forces, deputy prime 
minister, but because it was he who had defeated the French at 
Dien Bien Phu. The Americans lived in the nightmare of a Dien 
Bien Phu, and as soon as things began going badly, they said, “It’s 
Giap getting ready for a new Dien Bien Phu.” Or else, simply, “It’s 
Giap.” They spoke of Giap in February 1968, when the Vietcong 
unleashed the Tet offensive. They spoke of Giap in March and 
April, when the North Vietnamese took Hue and besieged Khe 
San. They spoke of Giap in May and June, when the Vietcong 
launched the second offensive on Saigon and the central highlands. 
They would go on speaking of Giap for years. The name, short and 
dry as a slap in the face, was a threat forever suspended in the air, a 
bugbear from the seventeenth parallel on down. You frighten chil¬ 
dren by whispering, “I’ll send for the bogeyman.” You frightened 
the Americans by whispering, “Giap is coming.” Furthermore, 
hadn’t they inflated him themselves, with their mania for legends? 
They hadn’t even asked themselves if the legend might not be 

At Dien Bien Phu, Giap had of course won a triumph, but it was 
yet to be seen if he were really an Asian Napoleon, a genius in mil¬ 
itary strategy, a perennial victor. Had not the Tet offensive perhaps 


General Giap 


failed, as well as the May offensive? Had not Hue fallen and the 
siege of Khe San been lifted in the end? The war, in that February 
of 1969, had gone more in favor of the Americans and South Viet¬ 
namese. Hanoi's only real victory had been the abdication of John¬ 
son and the suspension of the bombings over North Vietnam. In 
Saigon, Thieu had consolidated his power. 

But Giap was still Giap. And anyone who was a journalist 
wanted to interview Giap. It was obvious why. Ho Chi Minh was 
too old by now, too sick. He shook the hands of visitors, made 
some exclamation about final victory, and then withdrew cough¬ 
ing. A meeting with Ho Chi Minh was good only from a human and 
personal point of view, that is, you could say, “IVe met Ho Chi 
Minh.” But it didn't give you much else to say. But a meeting with 
Giap! Giap had plenty of things to say, and he hadn't been saying 
them since 1954. More unapproachable than even Ho Chi Minh, 
he had not turned up even at official functions; every so often a 
rumor circulated that he was dead. 

So as soon as I had arrived in Hanoi in that February of 1969, 1 
had asked to see Giap and with stubborn hope was getting ready for 
the meeting, carefully reading up on his biography. And such a fas¬ 
cinating biography. Son of a landowner reduced to poverty, he had 
been raised in a rich French family, a far cry from a Marxist educa¬ 
tion. Like a good bourgeois, he had studied at the imperial college 
in Hue, then at the University of Hanoi, where he had taken his 
degree in jurisprudence and philosophy; finally he had been a 
teacher of literature and history at the French lycee in Hanoi, 
tormenting his pupils with the campaigns of Napoleon. On the 
blackboard he used to draw the details of battles, analyzing them at 
length, and his colleagues made fun of him. “Do you want to 
become a general?” 

But as a revolutionary, he had begun very early—at the age of 
fourteen. At eighteen, moreover, he had already been in prison; at 
twenty he aligned himself with Ho Chi Minh. For his thundering 
rages and stony silences, Ho Chi Minh used to call him Volcano 
Covered with Snow, and for his courage he used to call him Kui, 
or Devil. In 1935 he had joined the Communist party and married 
one of his comrades, Minh Tai. In 1939, the year when the com¬ 
munists had been outlawed, he had escaped to China, and Minh 
Tai had covered his flight by getting herself arrested in his place. 



Because of this she had died in 1941, in a rat-infested cell. Many 
believe that as a result of this Giap had learned to hate and become 
closed to all pity, open to all cruelty. Didn’t the French find it out 
when, between 1945 and 1954, they had fallen into his traps full of 
poisonous bees, his pits full of snakes, or were blown up by booby 
traps hidden under corpses abandoned by the wayside? 

A master of sabotage, he liked to say that guerrilla warfare would 
always win out over modern weapons. And it goes without saying 
that at Dien Bien Phu he had won with cannons. A hundred can¬ 
nons transported by the Vietminh piece by piece, on their backs, 
on bicycles, by forced marches and without rations. If Dien Bien 
Phu had cost the French twelve thousand dead, it had cost Giap a 
good forty-five thousand. And it goes without saying that he would 
mention it with indifference, detachment. “Every two minutes 
three hundred thousand people die on this planet. What are forty- 
five thousand for a battle? In war death doesn’t count.” His 
harshness was not free of cynicism, and indeed he had little in 
common with the austere Marxists of Hanoi. He always wore new 
and well-pressed uniforms; he lived in a beautiful colonial villa 
built by the French and furnished in French taste; he owned a lim¬ 
ousine with curtains, and was remarried to a beautiful girl many 
years younger than himself. In short, he certainly did not lead the 
life of a monk or a Ho Chi Minh. 

In Hanoi my request to interview Giap had been received with 
many reservations by the North Vietnamese. “Why does it have to 
be Giap? Giap isn’t the only one in this war. And besides Giap 
doesn’t receive visitors.” But, three days before my departure, my 
female guide and interpreter, An The, brought me the news that 
yes, 1 could see Giap, “Tomorrow at three-thirty in the afternoon. 
Not for an official interview, mind you: for a causerie, a chat. And 
not alone: together with the other women of the delegation.” The 
other women of the delegation were two communists and a socialist 
from the PSIUP (Partito Socialista Italiano d’Unita Proletaria), 
together with whom I had been invited to North Vietnam. Their 
names were Carmen, Giulia, and Marisa: intelligent, friendly 
women. They understood the difficulty that this collective appoint¬ 
ment gave me and promised not to open their mouths so that I 
could question Giap as comfortably as possible. They also promised 
to yield their place should he choose one of them to sit next to 

General Giap 77 

him, and to take notes if he were to forbid the use of the tape re¬ 

Next day they dressed carefully and were already ready by noon. 
And I as well—tense and nervous. In fact I don’t remember what 
happened from noon on. I remember only that we left escorted by 
An The, her assistant Huan, and the interpreter Ho, and that staff 
officers were waiting for us at the entrance to the War Ministry, all 
grave and smartly dressed in their olive-green uniforms. Then one 
by one they bowed with broad smiles and escorted us along a corri¬ 
dor to a large room with a divan and many armchairs along the 
walls. In the center of the room, stiff as a lead soldier, was Vo 
Nguyen Giap. The legendary Giap. 

I was astonished first of all at how short he was. I knew he was 
less than five feet tall, but, seen in this way, he looked even 
shorter. He had short legs, short arms, and a very short neck that 
immediately disappeared inside his jacket. His body was squat, 
even fat. His face was swollen and covered with little blue veins 
that made him look purple. No, it was not an extremely likable 
face. Perhaps because of that purple color, perhaps because of those 
uncertain outlines, it cost you some effort to keep from looking at 
him, where the things you found were scarcely interesting. The 
huge mouth full of tiny teeth, the flattened nose enlarged by two 
huge nostrils, the forehead that stopped at the middle of his skull in 
a mop of black hair . . . 

But his eyes! His eyes were perhaps the most intelligent eyes I 
had ever seen. Sharp, shrewd, laughing, cruel—everything. They 
shone like two drops of light, pierced you like two sharp knives, and 
conveyed such sureness, such authority. I even asked myself in¬ 
credulously: Is it possible that these eyes wept one night in the Lam 
Son mountains? One night, in the Lam Son mountains, where he 
was organizing guerrilla warfare against the French, someone had 
brought Giap the news that Ho Chi Minh was dead. And, in one 
of his books, he had recounted the episode as follows: “I felt every¬ 
thing whirl around me. 1 collected his things in the straw basket he 
used as a suitcase and asked Tong to pronounce the funeral ora¬ 
tion. It was very cold and millions of stars illumined the immensity 
of the sky. But an infinite sadness twisted my heart, and with my 
eyes full of tears I looked at the stars and all of a sudden wept.” 
Who knows! Perhaps in some remote past these eyes had really 


wept, but nothing in the world could have made them weep again. 

He came toward me with his hand extended in a worldly, free- 
and-easy manner. There was even something worldly in his smile. 
He asked me if I spoke French and his voice was shrill, his tone so 
inquisitorial that I was intimidated and answered “Oui, Monsieur ’ 
instead of “Old, mon General But this didn't irritate him, and in 
fact it seemed to me that he liked hearing himself called Monsieur 
instead of “Comrade," the appellation used by Giulia, Carmen, 
and Marisa. He led us to the back of the room so that we could sit 
down, asked Giulia and Marisa to take the armchairs, and invited 
Carmen to sit down next to him on the divan. True to her word, 
Carmen demurred and moved so that I could take her place. But 
this took time, and several minutes went by before everyone was 
settled: my friends, An The, Huan, and Ho in the armchairs on 
our right and the staff officers to our left. The shoes of one of the 
officers were too tight. He loosened the laces from one hook, then 
from another, and still another, and soon both his shoes were com¬ 
pletely unlaced. Then another officer did the same, and then even 
a third, while I kept wondering how to conduct the interview. 

It was certainly not an ideal situation for me, with all these peo¬ 
ple seated in a row as though in school or at the theater. There was 
no way of knowing what the proper ceremony was and what would 
happen in the first ten minutes: an exchange of compliments, re¬ 
freshments? In front of the divan where I was seated with Giap was 
a table loaded with delicacies: fried cheese balls, rice sweets, meat 
croquettes, comfits, cookies, and little glasses of red liqueur. But no 
one touched them except myself, and something happened that 
made me win the match. It happened that Giap saw my tape re¬ 
corder and was alarmed. “]e vous prie , pas celui-la, ga sera seule - 
ment une causerie entre nous , vous savez I tried to argue, a dis¬ 
cussion ensued at the end of which we agreed on the necessity of at 
least taking notes. And, in the wake of this conversation, I was able 
to get him to speak. 

I must confess that it wasn't even difficult. Giap loves to talk and 
he talked for forty-five minutes, without letting up, in the pedantic 
tone of a professor lecturing some rather unintelligent pupils. To 
interrupt to ask a question was a hopeless undertaking. Giulia, Car¬ 
men, Marisa, An The, Ho, all those who were taking notes 
couldn't keep up with him. It was even pathetic to see those heads 

General Giap 


bent over their notebooks and those hands writing, writing, writing 
so breathlessly. I was the only one not writing, but how could I have 
done so while his terrible eyes sought mine? 

Giap in his turn questioned me, reproached me, challenged me, 
and it was not seldom that he abandoned himself to passionate out¬ 
bursts. As when 1 said to him that the Tet offensive had failed, and 
he got up nervously, walked around the table, and with out¬ 
stretched arms exclaimed, “Tell that to the Liberation Front!” 
(Thus disclaiming any responsibility for the offensive that everyone 
attributed to him.) His little hands moved ceaselessly, he showed 
the satisfaction of one who likes to hear the sound of his own voice, 
and he let up only when he realized that the time limit set for the 
interview had been passed. He stopped suddenly. And immediately 
jumped to his feet, which made everyone else rise. The officers 
who had unlaced their shoes did not know what to do. Red in the 
face, they arranged the laces that had been left in a tangle on the 
floor. And one, getting to his feet, stumbled and almost ended up 
on the floor. 

In the hotel we transcribed word for word the notes made by 
Giulia, Carmen, Marisa, An The, Huan, and Ho; then we com¬ 
pared them and composed the text of the interview, without omit¬ 
ting so much as a comma. But a surprise was in store for me next 
morning. An The arrived with three sheets of typewritten onionskin, 
which she gave to me saying that this, only this, was the text of the 
conversation I had had with the general. The general would not 
recognize any other text and I must promise to publish it. I read the 
sheets. There was no longer anything of what I had heard and that 
the others had transcribed. There was not his answer to the ques¬ 
tion about the Tet offensive, there was not his answer to the one 
about the Paris peace talks, and not even the one on the end of the 
war. There was nothing except a series of vague and rhetorical sen¬ 
tences—good at the most for a political rally. “I repeat, the general 
insists on the publication of this text,” said An The, her forefinger 
raised. ‘Til publish it,” I replied. “But together with the true text.” 
And I did. 

Giap never forgave me, and the North Vietnamese who had 
given me a visa even less. Independence of judgment, as we know, 
is a virtue that many communists don’t like. Or they like it only in 



cases where you are prompted to write something in their favor. In 
Hanoi they had accepted me for what I had written in 1968 from 
Saigon, attacking the Americans and praising the Vietcong. But 
now that I was explaining, in the same spirit, where they were 
wrong in Hanoi, all their tender feelings for me vanished, together 
with their good memories of me. They insulted me and called me 
stupid names. They said that I had wronged General Giap in order 
to render a service to the Americans, even that it was the Ameri¬ 
cans who had sent me to North Vietnam: "obviously I belonged to 
the CIA!” But I did not get more upset than necessary, least of all 
was I surprised, and this interview remained a document that is still 
talked about today. Published all over the world, it even landed on 
the desk of Henry Kissinger, who, thanks to it (as I have explained 
elsewhere), agreed to see and talk to me. 

oriana fallaci: General Giap, in many of your writings you pose 
the following question: Who after all will win the war in Viet¬ 
nam? So I ask you: Today, here in the first months of 1969, 
do you think you can say that the Americans have lost the war 
in Vietnam, that they have been militarily defeated? 
vo NGUYEN GIAP: They recognize it themselves. But now I’ll show 
you why the Americans have already been defeated—militarily 
and politically. And to show you their military defeat, I go 
back to their political defeat, which is at the bottom of every¬ 
thing. The Americans have committed a very grave error in 
choosing South Vietnam as a battlefield. The reactionaries in 
Saigon are too weak—even Taylor, McNamara, and West¬ 
moreland knew this. What they didn’t know is that, being so 
weak, they would not know how to profit from American aid. 
Because what was the goal of the American aggression in Viet¬ 
nam? Clearly, a neocolony based on a puppet government. 
But to create a neocolony you need a stable government, and 
the government of Saigon is an extremely unstable one. It has 
no effect on the population, people don’t believe in it. So in 
what paradox do the Americans find themselves? The paradox 
of not being able to withdraw from South Vietnam even if 
they want to, because in order to withdraw they must leave 
behind a stable political situation. That is, a few servants capa- 

Genera] Giap 


ble of taking their places. Servants yes, but strong ones. Ser¬ 
vants yes, but serious ones. The puppet government of Saigon 
is neither strong nor serious; it’s worth nothing even as a ser¬ 
vant; it can’t stand on its feet even when propped up with 
tanks. And so how can the Americans leave? And yet they 
must leave—they can’t keep six hundred thousand men in 
Vietnam for another ten, fifteen years! This then is their polit¬ 
ical defeat: to achieve nothing from a political standpoint de¬ 
spite the enormous military apparatus at their disposal. 

O.F.: General, this doesn’t mean that militarily they’ve lost the war. 

v.n.g.: Be patient, don’t interrupt me. Of course it means that. If 
they didn’t feel themselves beaten, the White House wouldn’t 
be talking about peace with honor. But let’s go back awhile, to 
the times of Geneva and Eisenhower. How did the Americans 
begin in Vietnam? With their usual methods, namely, mili¬ 
tary and economic aid to puppet governments. Together with 
the dollar. Because they always believe they can solve any¬ 
thing with the dollar. Even a free and independent govern¬ 
ment, they thought they could set it up with the dollar: that is, 
with an army of puppets bought with the dollar, with thirty 
thousand advisers paid in dollars, with the invention of stra¬ 
tegic hamlets built on dollars. But the people intervened, and 
the American plan failed. The strategic hamlets failed, the 
advisers failed, the army of puppets failed. And the Americans 
found themselves forced to intervene militarily, as Ambassador 
Taylor had already recommended. 

So the second phase of their aggression began: the special 
war. They were certain of being able to conclude it by 1965, 
at the most by 1966—with a hundred and fifty thousand men 
and eighteen billion dollars. But in 1966 the war was by no 
means over, and in fact had risen to another two hundred 
thousand men, and they were talking about the third phase, 
namely limited war. The famous two-pronged policy of West¬ 
moreland: on one side to win over the population and on the 
other to exterminate the Liberation forces. But the two prongs 
didn’t take hold and Westmoreland lost the war. As a general 
he lost it in 1967, when he wanted additional troops sent and 
made that optimistic report to Washington, announcing that 
1968 would be a good year for the war in Vietnam, it would 


allow Johnson to win re-election. In Washington, West¬ 
moreland was greeted as a hero, but he certainly knew that 
this war was beginning to cost a little too much. Taylor had 
understood that from the beginning. Come on now! Korea 
cost the Americans twenty billion dollars, Vietnam has already 
cost them more than a hundred billion. Korea cost them more 
than fifty-four thousand dead, Vietnam has already surpassed 
this figure . . . 

O.F.: The Americans say thirty-four thousand dead, General. 

v.N.G.: Hm . . . I'd say at least double. The Americans always 
give figures lower than the truth: when it suits them, three in¬ 
stead of five. They can’t have had only thirty-four thousand 
dead. And when we’ve shot down more than thirty-two 
hundred of their planes! And when they admit that one out of 
every five of their planes has been shot down! Look: in five 
years of war they’ve certainly lost no less than seventy thou¬ 
sand men. And maybe that’s too low. 

O.F. : General, the Americans also say that you have lost half a 

v.N.G. : The exact number. 

O.F.: Exact? 

v.N.G.: Exact. But to get back to what I was saying, 1968 arrives 
and in that year the Americans were really certain of winning. 
Then just look, all of a sudden there was the Tet offensive and 
the Liberation Front shows that it is able to attack them when¬ 
ever it wants, wherever it wants. Including the most well- 
defended cities, including Saigon. And the Americans finally 
admit that this war is a strategic error. Johnson admits it, Mc¬ 
Namara admits it. They recognize that it was the wrong time, 
the wrong place, that Montgomery was right in saying that the 
army must not be brought onto the Asian continent. The vic¬ 
torious Tet offensive . . . 

O.F.: General, everyone agrees that the Tet offensive w'as a great 
psychological victory. But from a military standpoint don’t you 
think it was a failure? 

v.N.G.: Failure? 

O.F.: I would say so, General. 

v.N.G.: Tell that to, or rather ask, the Liberation Front. 

O.F. : First I’d like to ask you, General. 

General Giap 


v.n.g.: You must understand that this is a delicate question, that I 
cannot express judgments of this kind, that I cannot meddle in 
the affairs of the Front. It’s a delicate thing . . . very delicate 
. . . Anyway you surprise me, since the whole world has 
recognized that, from a military and political standpoint, the 
Tet offensive . . . 

O.F.: General, even from a political standpoint it was not a huge 
victory. The population did not rise up, and after two weeks 
the Americans regained control. Only in Hue did we see a 
saga that went on for a month. In Hue, where there were 
North Vietnamese. 

v.N.G. : I don’t know if the Front foresaw or desired the population 
to rise up, though I would think that without the help of the 
population the forces of the Front would not have been able to 
enter the city. And I won’t discuss the Tet offensive, which 
didn’t depend on me, didn’t depend on us; it was conducted 
by the Front. But it’s a fact that, after the Tet offensive, the 
Americans passed from the attack to the defense. And defense 
is always the beginning of defeat. I say beginning of defeat 
without contradicting myself. In fact our final victory is still to 
come and one cannot yet speak of the definite defeat of the 
Americans. Actually the Americans are still strong, who can 
deny it? It will still take much effort on our part to beat them 
completely. The military problem . . . now I speak as a sol¬ 
dier . . . yes, the Americans are strong, their weapons are 
strong. But that won’t do them any good because the war in 
Vietnam is not only a military war, and so military' strength 
and military strategy are not enough either to win it or under¬ 
stand it. 

O.F.: Yes, General. But . . . 

v.n.g.: Don’t interrupt me. The United States, I was saying, is 
waging war by arithmetical strategy. They ask their computers, 
make additions and subtractions, extract square roots, and on 
that they act. But arithmetical strategy doesn’t work here—if it 
did, they would have exterminated us already. With their 
airplanes, for example. It was no accident that they thought 
they could subdue us in a few weeks by unloading on us all 
those billions of explosives. Because, as I’ve already told you, 
they figure everything in billions, in dollars. And they un- 

8 4 


derestimate the spirit of a people that knows how to fight for a 
just cause, to save its homeland from the invader. They can’t 
get it in their heads that the war in Vietnam can be under¬ 
stood only by the strategy of a people’s war, that the war in 
Vietnam is not a question of numbers and well-equipped sol¬ 
diers, that all that doesn’t solve the problem. For example. 
They said that to win it was necessary to have a ratio of 
twenty-five to one. Then they realized that figure was impossi¬ 
ble and reduced it to six to one. Then they came down to 
three, maintaining that was a dangerous ratio. No, something 
more is needed than an equation of three to one, six to one, 
twenty-five to one, and this something is a whole people 
against them. When a whole people rebels, there’s nothing 
you can do. And there’s no wealth in the world that can liqui¬ 
date it. This is the reason for our strategy, our tactics, which 
the Americans can’t understand. 

O.F.: Since you’re so sure that they’ll ultimately be defeated, Gen¬ 
eral, when do you think this will happen? 

v.n.g.: Oh, this isn’t a war that you resolve in a few years. In a war 
against the United States, you need time, time . . . The 
Americans will be defeated in time, by getting tired. And in 
order to tire them, we have to go on, to last . . . for a long 
time. That’s what we’ve always done. Because, you know, 
we’re a small nation. We’re scarcely thirty million, half of 
Italy, and we were hardly a million at the beginning of the 
Christian era, when the Mongols came. After conquering 
Europe and Asia, the Mongols came here. And we, who were 
scarcely a million, defeated them. They came here three 
times, the Mongols, and three times we defeated them. We 
didn’t have their means, yet still we resisted and endured and 
repeated to ourselves: all the people must fight. What was 
valid in 1200 is still valid in the twentieth century. The prob¬ 
lem is the same. We are good soldiers because we are Viet¬ 

O.F.: General, the Vietnamese in the South who are fighting along¬ 
side the Americans are also Vietnamese. What do you think of 
them as soldiers? 

v.n.g.: They can’t be good soldiers. They aren’t good soldiers. 
Because they don’t believe in what they’re doing and therefore 

General Giap 


they lack any combat spirit. The Americans know this too, 
and they’re very much better. If the Americans hadn’t known 
that puppet-soldiers are bad soldiers, they would have had no 
need to bring so many of their own troops into Vietnam. 

O.F.: General, let’s talk about the Paris Conference. Do you think 
that peace may come from the Paris Conference or from a 
military victory' like the one you had at Dien Bien Phu? 

v.n.g.: Dien Bien Phu . . . Dien Bien Phu . . . The fact that 
we’ve gone to Paris proves our good intentions. And it can’t be 
said that Paris is useless, since not only ourselves but also the 
Liberation Front is in Paris. In Paris w ; e must translate to a po¬ 
litical level what is happening in Vietnam and . . . Madame! 
Paris, Madame, vous savez ... is something for the diplo¬ 

O.F. : So are you saying, General, that the war will not be resolved 
in Paris, that it can only be resolved militarily, never diplo¬ 
matically, that the Dien Bien Phu of the Americans must still 
come and will come? 

v.n.g.: Dien Bien Phu, Madame, Dien Bien Phu . . . Look, it’s 
not always true that history' repeats itself. But this time it will 
repeat itself. And just as we beat the French militarily, we will 
beat the Americans militarily. Yes, Madame, their Dien Bien 
Phu is still to come. And it will come. The Americans will 
definitely lose the war at the moment when their military 
strength reaches its height, and the great machine they’ve put 
together no longer succeeds in moving. Well beat them, that 
is, at the moment when they have the most men, the most 
weapons, the most hope of winning. Because all that wealth, 
that strength, will become a millstone around their necks. 
It’s inevitable. 

O.F.: Am I mistaken, General, or did you already try a second Dien 
Bien Phu at Khe San? 

v.n.g.: Oh, no. Khe San didn’t try to be, nor could it have been, a 
Dien Bien Phu. Khe San wasn’t that important to us. Or it 
was only to the extent that it was important to the Ameri¬ 
cans—in fact at Khe San their prestige was at stake. Because 
just look at the usual paradox that you always find with the 
Americans: as long as they stayed in Khe San to defend their 
prestige, they said Khe San was important. When they aban- 



doned Khe San, they said Khe San had never been important. 
Besides, don’t you think we won at Khe San? I say yes and 
. . . but do you know that journalists are curious? Too 
curious. And since I’m a journalist too, I’d like to reverse roles 
and put a couple of questions to you. First question. Do you 
agree on the fact that the Americans have lost the war in the 

O.F.: I’d say yes, General. If by war in the North you mean the 
bombings, I think the Americans have lost. Since they’ve 
achieved nothing substantial and then have had to suspend 

v.N.G.: Second question. Do you agree on the fact that the Ameri¬ 
cans have lost the war in the South? 

O.F.: No, General. They haven’t lost it. Or not yet. You haven’t re¬ 
ally kicked them out. They’re still there. And they’re staying. 

v.N.G.: You’re mistaken. They’re still there, but in what condition? 
Stranded, paralyzed, in the expectation of new defeats that 
they try to avoid without knowing how. Defeats that have and 
will have disastrous consequences for them—from an eco¬ 
nomic, political, historical point of view. They’re there with 
their hands tied, locked in their own strength; they can only 
place their hopes in the Paris peace talks. But even there 
they’re so stubborn, they don’t give up their positions. 

O.F.: General, you say that the Americans are stubborn in Paris. 
But the Americans say the same thing about you. So what good 
are these Paris peace talks? 

v.N.G.: Madame, vous savez . . . 

O.F. : General, here we do nothing but talk about peace but it seems 
that nobody really wants it. So how long will these Paris peace 
talks last? 

v.N.G.: A long time! Especially if the United States doesn’t give up 
its position. A long time. All the more since we won’t give up 
ours, we’re not in a hurry, we have patience. Because while 
the delegations are discussing, we go on with the war. We love 
peace but not peace at any price, not peace by compromise. 
Peace for us can only mean total victory, the total departure of 
the Americans. Any compromise would be a threat of slavery. 
And we prefer death to slavery. 

O.F.: So then, General, how long will the war go on? How long 

General Giap 87 

will this poor people be asked to sacrifice itself, to suffer, and 

V.N.G.: As long as necessary: ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty years. Until 
we achieve total victory, as our president, Ho Chi Minh, said. 
Yes! Even twenty, even fifty years! We're not in a hurry, we’re 
not afraid. 

Hanoi , February 1 969 


Golda Meir 

The story of this interview is quite special. It is the story of an inter¬ 
view that was mysteriously stolen and had to be done all over again. 
I had met Golda Meir twice, for more than three hours, before the 
theft occurred. I again saw Golda Meir twice, for about two hours, 
after the theft had occurred. So I think I can say I'm the only jour¬ 
nalist to have talked four times and for a good six hours with this 
fantastic woman whom you can praise or revile as you like but who 
cannot be denied the adjective fantastic. Am I mistaken? Am I 
guilty of optimism, or let’s even say feminism? Maybe. But while I 
admit that I have nothing against feminism, I must add that I will 
never be objective about Golda Meir. I will never succeed in judg¬ 
ing her with the disenchantment I would like to impose on myself 
when I say that a powerful personage is a phenomenon to be ana¬ 
lyzed coldly, surgically. 

In my opinion, even if one is not at all in agreement with her, 
with her politics, her ideology, one cannot help but respect her, ad¬ 
mire her, even love her. I almost loved her. Above all, she re¬ 
minds me of my mother, whom she somewhat resembles. My 
mother too has the same gray curly hair, that tired and wrinkled 
face, that heavy body supported on swollen, unsteady, leaden legs. 
My mother too has that sweet and energetic look about her, the 
look of a housewife obsessed with cleanliness. They are a breed of 
women, you see, that has gone out of style and whose wealth con- 


Golda Meir 


sists in a disarming simplicity, an irritating modesty, a wisdom that 
comes from having toiled all their lives in the pain, discomfort, and 
trouble that leave no time for the superfluous. 

All right, Golda Meir is also something else, something more. 
For example: for years it was she who could have lighted or extin¬ 
guished the fuse of a world conflict. For years she was the most au¬ 
thoritative representative of a doctrine that many people condemn 
and whose tenets I reject: Zionism. But this we know. And Fm not 
interested in telling what we know about Golda Meir. I’m inter¬ 
ested in telling what we don’t know. So here is the story of this in¬ 
terview'. Or rather my story u'ith Golda Meir, at that time prime 

My first meeting took place at the beginning of October, in her 
Jerusalem residence. It was a Monday, and she had dressed herself 
in black, as my mother does when she’s expecting visitors. She had 
also powdered her nose, as my mother does when she’s expecting 
visitors. Seated in the drawing room, with a cup of coffee and a 
pack of cigarettes, she seemed concerned only to make me feel at 
ease and to minimize her authority. I had sent her my book on 
Vietnam and a bouquet of roses. The roses were in a vase and the 
book in her hands. Before I could ask any questions, she began to 
discuss the way in wdiich I had viewed the war, and so it was not 
difficult to get her to speak about her war: of terrorism, of the Pales¬ 
tinians, of the occupied territories, of the conditions that she would 
put to Sadat and Hussein should she come to negotiate with the 
Arabs. Her voice was warm and vibrant, her expression smiling and 
jovial. She charmed me at once, without effort. Her conquest was 
complete when, an hour and a quarter later, she said she would see 
me again. 

The second meeting took place three days later, in her prime 
ministerial office. Two highly interesting hours. Abandoning politi¬ 
cal questions, on which I followed her at times with reservations, in 
the second meeting she talked exclusively about herself: about her 
childhood, her family, her trials as a woman, her friends. Pietro 
Nenni, for instance, for whom she feels boundless admiration and 
a touching affection. At the moment of saying good-by, we our¬ 
selves had become friends. She even gave me a photograph for my 
mother, with the most flattering dedication in the world. She 
begged me to come back and visit her soon. ‘"But without that thing 



there, eh? Only for a chat between ourselves over a cup of tea!” 
That thing there was the tape recorder, on which I had taken down 
every sentence, every reply. Her aides seemed astonished; it was the 
first time she had spoken with such candor in front of that-thing- 
there. One of them asked me to send him a copy of the tapes to 
give to a kibbutz that is preserving documents on Golda Meir. 

The tapes. As I said at the beginning of this book, for my work 
nothing is more precious than tapes. There are no stenographic 
records, memories, notes that can take the place of a person’s live 
voice. The tapes were two minicassettes of ninety minutes each, 
plus a third of five or six minutes. Of the three, only the first had 
been transcribed. So I put them in my purse with the care reserved 
for a jewel, and left next day, arriving in Rome about eight thirty in 
the evening. At nine-thirty 1 checked into a hotel. A famously good 
hotel. And here, as soon as I was in my room, I took the three 
minicassettes out of my purse and put them in an envelope. Then I 
put the envelope on the desk, placing on top of it a pair of glasses, a 
valuable compact, and other objects, and left the room. I locked 
the door, of course, gave the key to the desk clerk, and went out. 
For about fifteen minutes: time to go across the street and eat a 

When I came back, the key had disappeared. And when I went 
upstairs, the door to my room was open. Only the door. Everything 
else was in order. My suitcases were locked, the valuable compact 
and other objects were still where I had left them—at first glance it 
seemed that nothing had been touched. And it took a couple of 
seconds for me to realize that the envelope was empty, that Golda’s 
tapes were gone. Even my tape recorder, which contained another 
tape with a few sentences, was missing. They had taken it out of a 
traveling bag, ignoring a jewel box, and then had carefully rear¬ 
ranged the contents of the bag. Finally they had taken two neck¬ 
laces that I had left on the table. To throw us off the track, the 
police said. 

The police came immediately and stayed until dawn. Even the 
political division came, represented by sad and unpleasant young 
men who take no interest in ordinary thefts but only in more deli¬ 
cate matters. Even the scientific division came, with the cameras 
and instruments that are used to find clues in murder cases. But 
they found only my fingerprints: the thieves had operated with kid 

Golda Meir 


gloves, in every sense. Then the sad and unpleasant young men 
concluded that it was a political theft, as I myself already knew. 
What I couldn't understand was why it had been done and by 
whom. By an Arab looking for information? By some personal 
enemy of Golda's? By a jealous journalist? Everything had been 
done with precision, speed, lucidity—a la James Bond. And surely 
I had been followed; nobody knew I would arrive in Rome that day, 
at that hour, in that hotel. What about the key? Why had the key 
disappeared from its pigeonhole? 

The next day something strange happened. A woman with two 
airline bags appeared at the hotel and asked to see the police. She 
had found the bags in the bushes of the Villa Borghese and wanted 
to turn them over to the police. What did the bags contain? Some 
twenty minicassette tapes like mine. She was seized at once and 
taken to the police station. Here, one by one, the tapes were 
played. All that was on them were popular songs. A warning? A 
threat? A hoax? The woman was unable to say why she had gone to 
look for the police in that particular hotel. 

To get back to Golda. Golda learned of the theft the next eve¬ 
ning, when she was at home with friends and was telling about our 
interview: 'The day before yesterday I had an experience; I enjoyed 
being interviewed by . . She was interrupted by one of her 
aides, who handed her my telegram. "Everything stolen repeat ev¬ 
erything stop try to see me again please." She read it, they told me, 
put her hand to her breast, and for several minutes didn't say a 
word. Then she raised two distressed, determined eyes, and said 
with careful enunciation, "Obviously somebody doesn't want this 
interview to be published. So well have to do it over. Find me a 
couple of hours for a new appointment." This is just what she said, 
they assure me, and I can’t believe that any other government 
leader would have reacted in this way. I’m sure that any other, in 
her place, would have given a shrug. "So much the worse for her. I 
already gave her more than three hours. Let her write what she can 
remember, manage the best she can." The fact is that Golda, 
before being a statesman, is one of that breed of women that has 
gone out of style. The only condition she made was that we wait a 
month, and the new appointment was set for Thursday, November 
14. And so it happened. Certainly, returning to her that day, I 
didn't imagine I would discover how much I could love her in spite 



of all. But, to explain such a serious statement, 1 must tell what 
moved me still more. 

Golda lives alone. At night there is not even a dog to watch over 
her sleep in case she feels ill; there is her bodyguard on duty at the 
entrance to her villa and that’s all. During the day, to help her 
around the house, she has only a girl who comes in to make the 
bed, dust, and do the ironing. If she invites you to dinner, for ex¬ 
ample, Golda herself does the cooking, and after cooking, she 
cleans up: so that tomorrow the girl doesn’t find everything dirty. 
Well, the evening before my appointment, she had guests to dinner 
and they stayed until two in the morning, leaving a shambles of 
dirty dishes, dirty glasses, overflowing ashtrays, disorder. So that to¬ 
morrow the girl wouldn’t find everything dirty, at two in the morn¬ 
ing Golda began washing dishes and glasses, sweeping, and tidying, 
and she did not get to bed before three-thirty. At seven, she got up, 
as always, to read the papers and listen to the news on the radio. At 
eight she conferred with certain generals. At nine she conferred 
with certain ministers. At ten . . . she felt ill. At the age of sev¬ 
enty-four, three and a half hours of sleep are not enough. 

When I heard about it, I was ashamed to come in. I kept saying, 
''Let’s put off the appointment, it doesn’t matter, I swear it doesn’t 
matter!” But she wanted to keep her engagement: "Yes, poor thing, 
she came all this way and it’s the second time she’s come and they 
stole her tapes.” After resting for twenty minutes on the divan in her 
office, she appeared behind her desk, pale, worn out, and very 
sweet. I wasn’t to worry about the delay; she would give me as 
much time as I needed. And the interview was resumed—like the 
time before, better than the time before. In October she had been 
unable to speak of her husband, of what had been the tragedy of 
her life. This time she did even this, and since to speak of it is so 
painful for her, when she found that she couldn’t go on, she reas¬ 
sured me: "Don’t worry, we’ll finish tomorrow!” 

Then she gave me a fourth appointment, the splendid hour in 
which we spoke of old age, youth, and death. God, how alluring 
she looked when she talked of these things! Many maintain that 
Golda is ugly and rejoice in doing cruel caricatures of her. I an¬ 
swer: Certainly beauty is an opinion, but to me Golda seems like a 
beautiful old woman. Many maintain that Golda is masculine and 
enjoy spreading vulgar jokes about her. I answer: Certainly femi- 

Golda Meir 


ninity is an opinion, but to me Golda seems a woman in every 
way. That gentle modesty, for instance. That almost incredible 
candor when you remember how crafty and clever she can be when 
she swims among the whirlpools of politics. That torment in con¬ 
veying the anguish of a woman for whom childbearing is not 
enough. That tenderness in evoking the testimony of her children 
and grandchildren. That involuntary flirting. The last time I saw 
her she was wearing a sky-blue pleated blouse, with a pearl neck¬ 
lace. Stroking it with her short, pink-manicured nails, she seemed 
to be asking, “So do I look all right?'' And I thought, a pity she’s in 
power, a pity she’s on the side of those who command. In a woman 
like this, power is an error in taste. 

I won’t repeat that she was born in Kiev in 1898, with the name 
of Golda Mabovitz, that she grew up in America, in Milwaukee, 
where she married Morris Meyerson in 1917, that in 1918 she 
emigrated with him to Palestine, that the surname Meir was urged 
on her by David Ben-Gurion because it sounded more Hebrew, 
that her success began after she had served as ambassador to Mos¬ 
cow in the times of Stalin, that she smokes at least sixty cigarettes a 
day, that she keeps going mainly on coffee, that her working day 
lasts eighteen hours, that as prime minister she earns the miserable 
sum of about four hundred dollars a month. I’m not about to iook 
for the secret of her legend. The interview that follows explains it 
with all her good and her flaws. I composed it following the chro¬ 
nology of the meetings. 

Naturally the police never got to the core of the mystery sur¬ 
rounding the theft of those tapes. Or, if they did get to the core of 
it, they took care not to inform me. But a clue that soon became 
more than a clue offered itself. And it’s worth the trouble to relate 
it, if only to give another idea of those in power. 

At about the same time as my interview with Golda Meir, I had 
asked for one with Muammar el-Qaddafi. And he, through a high 
official of the Libyan Ministry of Information, had let me know 
that he would grant it. But all of a sudden, a few' days after the theft 
of the tapes, he sent for the correspondent of a rival weekly of 
L’Europeo. The correspondent rushed off to Tripoli and, by some 
coincidence, Qaddafi regaled him with sentences that sounded like 
answers to what Mrs. Meir had told me. T he poor journalist, need- 



less to say, was ignorant of this detail. But I, needless to say, 
realized it at once. And I raised a more than legitimate question: 
how was it possible for Mr. Qaddafi to answer something that had 
never been published and that no one, other than myself, knew? 
Had Mr. Qaddafi listened to my tapes? Had he actually received 
them from someone who had stolen them from me? And immedi¬ 
ately my mind recalled an unforgotten detail. The day after the 
theft I had played amateur detective and gone on the sly to rum¬ 
mage in the trash collected on the floor of the hotel where the 
crime had taken place. Here, and though they swore in the hotel 
that no Arab had gone up for days, I had discovered a piece of 
paper written in Arabic. 1 had given it, along with my statement, to 
the political division of the police. 

That's all. And, of course, I might be mistaken. Of course, the 
thief might well have been some American tourist or some 
Frenchman. Qaddafi never granted me the promised interview. He 
never called me to Tripoli to dispel the shameful suspicion that I 
still feel justified in nourishing. 

About Golda, well, she isn't involved any more in that error of 
taste called power. She is no longer prime minister. In a sudden, 
somehow brutal way, history took her off the job and sent her 
home. But home was the kibbutz where she had been longing to 
live and, I bet, that brutality was the nicest gift she could dream of. 
Nobody will ever convince me that she is not much happier now, 
far from power, than she ever was when 1 met her. After all, she 
deserves to end her days as she always dreamed. You will under¬ 
stand it from her own words. 

golda meir: Good morning, dear, good morning. I was just look¬ 
ing at your book on the war. And I was asking myself if 
women really react differently to war than men. ... I’d say 
no. In these last years and during the war of attrition, I've so 
often found myself having to make certain decisions: for in¬ 
stance, to send our soldiers to places from where they wouldn't 
come back, or commit them to operations that would cost the 
lives of who knows how many human beings on both sides. 
And I suffered ... I suffered. But I gave those orders as a 
man would have given them. And now that I think of it, I'm 

Golda Meir 


not at all sure that I suffered any more than a man would 
have. Among my male colleagues I have seen some oppressed 
by a darker sadness than mine. Oh, not that mine was little! 
But it didn't influence, no, it didn't influence my decisions. 
. . . War is an immense stupidity. I'm sure that someday all 
wars will end. I’m sure that someday children in school will 
study the history of the men who made war as you study an 
absurdity. They’ll be astonished, they’ll be shocked, just as 
today we're shocked by cannibalism. Even cannibalism was 
accepted for a long time as a normal thing. And yet today, at 
least physically, it’s not practiced any more. 

oriana fallaci: Mrs. Meir, I’m glad you were the first to bring up 
this subject. Because it's just the one with which I meant to 
begin. Mrs. Meir, when will there be peace in the Middle 
East? Will we be able to see this peace in our lifetimes? 

G.M.: You will, I think. Maybe ... I certainly won't. I think the 
war in the Middle East will go on for many, many years. And 
I'll tell you why. Because of the indifference with which the 
Arab leaders send their people off to die, because of the low 
estimate in which they hold human life, because of the inabil¬ 
ity of the Arab people to rebel and say enough. 

Do you remember when Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s 
crimes during the Twentieth Communist Congress? A voice 
was raised at the back of the hall, saying, “And where were 
you, Comrade Khrushchev?" Khrushchev scrutinized the faces 
before him, found no one, and said, “Who spoke up?" No 
one answered. “Who spoke up?" Khrushchev asked again. 
And again no one answered. Then Khrushchev exclaimed, 
“Comrade, I was where you are now." Well, the Arab people 
are just where Khrushchev was, where the man was who re¬ 
proached him without having the courage to show his face. 

We can only arrive at peace with the Arabs through an 
evolution on their part that includes democracy. But wherever 
I turn my eyes to look, I don't see a shadow of democracy. I 
see only dictatorial regimes. And a dictator doesn't have to ac¬ 
count to his people for a peace he doesn't make. He doesn’t 
even have to account for the dead. Who's ever found out how 
many Egyptian soldiers died in the last two wars? Only the 
mothers, sisters, wives, relatives who didn’t see them come 



back. Their leaders aren't even concerned to know where 
they’re buried, if they’re buried. While we . . . 

O.F.: While you? . . . 

G.M.: Look at these five volumes. They contain the photograph and 
biography of every man and woman soldier who died in the 
war. For us, every single death is a tragedy. We don’t like to 
make war, even when we win. After the last one, there was no 
joy in our streets. No dancing, no songs, no festivities. And 
you should have seen our soldiers coming back victorious. 
Each one was a picture of sadness. Not only because they had 
seen their brothers die, but because they had had to kill their 
enemies. Many locked themselves in their rooms and wouldn’t 
speak. Or when they opened their mouths, it was to repeat like 
a refrain: “I had to shoot. I killed.” Just the opposite of the 
Arabs. After the war we offered the Egyptians an exchange of 
prisoners. Seventy of theirs for ten of ours. They answered, 
“But yours are officers, ours are fellahin! It’s impossible.” Fel- 
lahin, peasants. I’m afraid . . . 

O.F.: Are you afraid that war between Israel and the Arabs may 
break out again? 

G.M.: Yes. It’s possible, yes. Because, you see, many say that the 
Arabs are ready to sign an agreement with us. But, in these 
dictatorial regimes, who is to say that such an agreement 
would be worth anything? Let’s suppose that Sadat signs and 
is then assassinated. Or simply eliminated. Who’s to say that 
his successor will respect the agreement signed by Sadat? Was 
the truce that all the Arab countries had signed with us re¬ 
spected? Despite that truce, there was never peace on our 
borders and today we’re still waiting for them to attack us. 

O.F.: But there’s talk of an agreement today, Mrs. Meir. Even Sadat 
is talking about it. Isn’t it easier to negotiate with Sadat than it 
was to negotiate with Nasser? 

G.M.: Not at all. It’s exactly the same. For the simple reason that 
Sadat doesn’t want to negotiate with us. I’m more than ready 
to negotiate with him. I’ve been saying it for years: “Let’s sit 
down at a table and see if we can arrange things, Sadat.” He 
flatly refuses. He’s not a bit ready to sit down at a table with 
me. He goes on talking about the difference between an agree¬ 
ment and a treaty. He says he’s ready for an agreement, but 

Golda Meir 


not a peace treaty. Because a peace treaty would mean recog¬ 
nition of Israel, diplomatic relations with Israel. See what I 
mean? Sadat doesn’t mean definite talks that would put an end 
to the war, but a kind of cease-fire. And then he refuses to 
negotiate with us directly. He wants to negotiate through inter¬ 
mediaries. We can’t talk to each other through intermediaries! 
It’s senseless, useless! In 1949 too, in Rhodes, after the War of 
Independence, we signed an agreement with the Egyptians, 
Jordanians, Syrians, and Lebanese. But it was through an in¬ 
termediary, through Dr. Bunche, who on behalf of the United 
Nations met first with one group, then with another. . . . 
Great results. 

O.F.: And the fact that Hussein is talking about peace—that isn’t a 
good sign either? 

G.M.: I’ve said nice things about Hussein lately. I congratulated him 
for having talked about peace in public. I’ll go further and say 
I believe Hussein. I’m sure that by now he’s realized how fu¬ 
tile it would be for him to embark on another war. Hussein 
has understood that he made a terrible mistake in 1967, when 
he went to war with us without considering the message Esh- 
kol had sent him: “Stay out of the war and nothing will hap¬ 
pen to you. ’’ He’s understood that it was a tragic piece of fool¬ 
ishness to listen to Nasser and his lies about bombing Tel 
Aviv. So now he wants peace. But he wants it on his condi¬ 
tions. He claims the left bank of the Jordan, that is the West 
Bank, he claims Jerusalem, he invokes the United Nations 
Resolution. . . . We once accepted a United Nations resolu¬ 
tion. It was when we were asked to divide Jerusalem. It was a 
deep wound in our hearts, but still we accepted. And we all 
know the consequences. Were we maybe the ones to attack 
the Jordanian army? No, it was the Jordanian army that en¬ 
tered Jerusalem! The Arabs are really strange people: they lose 
wars and then expect to gain by it. After all, did we or didn’t 
we win the Six Day War? Do we or don’t we have the right to 
set our conditions? Since when in history does the one who at¬ 
tacks and loses have the right to dictate terms to the winner? 
T hey do nothing but tell us: restore this, restore that, give up 
this, give up that . . . 

O.F.: Will you ever give up Jerusalem, Mrs. Meir? 


G.M.: No. Never. No. Jerusalem no. Jerusalem never. Inadmis¬ 
sible. Jerusalem is out of the quastion. We won’t even agree 
to discuss Jerusalem. 

O.F.: Would you give up the West Bank of the Jordan? 

G.M.: On this point there are differences of opinion in Israel. So it’s 
possible that we’d be ready to negotiate about the West Bank. 
Let me make myself clearer. I believe the majority of Israelis 
would never ask the Knesset to give up the West Bank com¬ 
pletely. However, if we should come to negotiate with Hus¬ 
sein, the majority of Israelis would be ready to hand back part 
of the West Bank. I said part—let that be clear. And for the 
moment the government hasn’t decided either yes or no. Nor 
have I. Why should we quarrel among ourselves before the 
head of an Arab state says he’s ready to sit down at a table with 
us? Personally, I think that if Hussein should decide to negoti¬ 
ate with us, we might give him back a part of the West Bank. 
Either after a decision by the government or parliament, or 
after a referendum. We could certainly hold a referendum on 
this matter. 

O.F. : And Gaza? Would you give up Gaza, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: I say that Gaza must, should be part of Israel. Yes, that’s my 
opinion. Our opinion, in fact. However, to start negotiating, I 
don’t ask Hussein or Sadat to agree with me on any point. I 
say, “My opinion, our opinion, is that Gaza should remain 
part of Israel. I know you think otherwise. All right, let’s sit 
down at a table and start negotiating.’’ Do I make myself clear? 
It’s by no means indispensable to find ourselves in agreement 
before the negotiations: we hold negotiations precisely in order 
to reach an agreement. When I state that Jerusalem will never 
be divided, that Jerusalem will remain in Israel, I don’t mean 
that Hussein or Sadat shouldn’t mention Jerusalem. I don’t 
even mean that they shouldn’t mention Gaza. They can bring 
up anything they like at the time of negotiations. 

O.F.: And the Golan Heights? 

G.M.: It’s more or less the same idea. The Syrians would like us to 
come down from the Golan Heights so that they can shoot 
down at us as they did before. Needless to say, we have no in¬ 
tention of doing so, we’ll never come down from the plateau. 
Nevertheless, we’re ready to negotiate with the Syrians too. 

Golda Meir 


On our conditions. And our conditions consist in defining a 
border between Syria and Israel that stabilizes our presence up 
there. In other words, the Syrians today find themselves ex¬ 
actly where the border ought to be. On this I don’t think well 
yield. Because only if they stay where they are today can they 
be kept from shooting down at us as they did for nineteen 

O.F.: And the Sinai? 

G.M.: We’ve never said that we wanted the whole Sinai or most of 
the Sinai. We don’t want the whole Sinai. We want control of 
Sharm El Sheikh and part of the desert, let’s say a strip of 
desert, connecting Israel with Sharm El Sheikh. Is that clear? 
Must I repeat it? We don’t want most of the Sinai. Maybe we 
don’t even want half of the Sinai. Because it’s not important to 
us to be sitting along the Suez Canal. We’re the first to realize 
that the Suez Canal is too important to the Egyptians, that to 
them it even represents a question of prestige. We also know 
that the Suez Canal isn’t necessary for our defense. We’re 
ready to give it up as of today. But we won’t give up Sharm El 
Sheikh and a strip of desert connecting us with Sharm El 
Sheikh. Because we want our ships to be able to enter and 
leave Sharm El Sheikh. Because we don’t want to find our¬ 
selves again in the conditions we found ourselves in the other 
time, when we gave up Sharm El Sheikh. Because we don’t 
want to take the risk of waking up again some morning with 
the Sinai full of Egyptian troops. On these terms, and only on 
these terms, are we ready to negotiate with the Egyptians. To 
me they seem very reasonable terms. 

O.F.: And so it’s obvious that you’ll never go back to your old 

G.M.: Never. And when I say never, it’s not because we mean to 
annex new territory. It’s because we mean to ensure our de¬ 
fense, our survival. If there’s any possibility of reaching the 
peace you spoke of in the beginning, this is the only way. 
There’d never be peace if the Syrians were to return to the 
Golan Heights, if the Egyptians were to take back the whole 
Sinai, if we were to re-establish our 1967 borders with Hus¬ 
sein. In 1967, the distance to Natanya and the sea was barely 
ten miles, fifteen kilometers. If we give Hussein the possibility 



of covering those fifteen kilometers, Israel risks being cut in 
two and . . . They accuse us of being expansionists, but, 
believe me, we’re not interested in expanding. We’re only in¬ 
terested in new borders. And look, these Arabs want to go back 
to the 1967 borders. If those borders were the right ones, why 
did they destroy them? 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, so far we’ve been talking about agreements, nego¬ 
tiations, treaties. But since the 1967 cease-fire, the war in the 
Middle East has taken on a new face: the face of terror, of ter¬ 
rorism. What do you think of this war and the men who are 
conducting it? Of Arafat, for instance, of Habash, of the Black 
September leaders? 

G.M.: I simply think they’re not men. I don’t even consider them 
human beings, and the worst thing you can say of a man is 
that he’s not a human being. It’s like saying he’s an animal, 
isn’t it? But how can you call what they’re doing “a war”? 
Don’t you remember what Habash said when he had a bus full 
of Israeli children blown up? “It’s best to kill the Israelis while 
they’re still children.” Come on, what they’re doing isn’t a 
war. It’s not even a revolutionary movement because a move¬ 
ment that only wants to kill can’t be called revolutionary. 

Look, at the beginning of the century in Russia, in the revo¬ 
lutionary movement that rose up to overthrow the czar, there 
was one party that considered terror the only means of 
struggle. One day a man from this party was sent with a bomb 
to a street corner where the carriage of one of the czar’s high 
officials was supposed to pass. The carriage went by at the ex¬ 
pected time. But the official was not alone, he was accom¬ 
panied by his wife and children. So what did this true revolu¬ 
tionary do? He didn’t throw the bomb. He let it go off in his 
hand and was blown to pieces. Look, we too had our terrorist 
groups during the War of Independence: the Stern, the Irgun. 
And I was opposed to them, I was always opposed to them. 
But neither of them ever covered itself with such infamy as the 
Arabs have done with us. Neither of them ever put bombs in 
supermarkets or dynamite in school buses. Neither of them 
ever provoked tragedies like Munich or Lod airport. 

O.F.: And how can one fight such terrorism, Mrs. Meir? Do you re¬ 
ally think it helps to bomb Lebanese villages? 

Golda Meir 


G.M. : To a certain extent, yes. Of course. Because the fedayeen are 
in those villages. The Lebanese themselves say, “Certain 
areas are A1 Fatah territory/’ So certain areas should be 
cleaned up. It’s the Lebanese who should think of cleaning 
them up. The Lebanese say they can’t do anything. Well, 
that’s what Hussein used to say at the time when the fedayeen 
were encamped in Jordan. Even our American friends said it: 
“It’s not that Hussein doesn’t want to get rid of them! It’s that 
he doesn’t have enough strength to get rid of them.” But in 
September 1970, when Amman was in danger and his palace 
was in danger and he himself found himself in danger, Hus¬ 
sein realized that he could do something. And he liquidated 
them. If the Lebanese go on doing nothing, we’ll respond, 
“Very well. We realize your difficulties. You can’t do any¬ 
thing. But we can. And just to show you, we’ll bomb those 
areas that shelter the fedayeen.” 

Maybe more than any other Arab country, Lebanon is offer¬ 
ing hospitality to the terrorists. The Japanese who carried out 
the Lod massacre came from Lebanon. The girls who tried to 
hijack the Sabena plane in Tel Aviv had been trained in 
Lebanon. Are we supposed to sit here with our hands folded, 
praying and murmuring, “Let’s hope that nothing happens”? 
Praying doesn’t help. What helps is to counterattack. With all 
possible means, including means that we don’t necessarily 
like. Certainly we’d rather fight them in the open. But since 
that’s not possible . . . 

O.F. : Mrs. Meir, would you be ready to talk with Arafat or Habash? 

G.M.: Never! Not with them! Never! What is there to discuss with 
people who haven’t even the courage to risk their own skins 
and consign the bombs to someone else? Like those two Arabs 
in Rome, for example. The ones who handed the record 
player with a bomb to the two stupid English girls. Listen, we 
want to arrive at peace with the Arab states, with responsible 
governments of the Arab states, whatever their regime, since 
their regime isn’t our concern. But to people like Habash, 
Arafat, Black September, we have nothing to say. The people 
to talk to are others. 

O.F.: Do you mean us Europeans, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: Exactly. The Europeans, and not only the Europeans, must 



decide to stop this business that you call war. Up to now 
there's been too much tolerance on your part. A tolerance, let 
me say, that has its roots in unextinguished anti-Semitism. 
But anti-Semitism is never exhausted in the suffering of just 
Jews. History has shown that anti-Semitism in the world has 
always brought on disaster for everyone. It begins by torment¬ 
ing the Jews and ends by tormenting anybody. To give you a 
trite example, there was that first airplane that was hijacked. It 
was an El Al plane, remember? They hijacked it to Algeria. 
Well, some people said it was too bad, others were happy 
about it, and no pilot dreamed of declaring, “From now on I 
don't fly to Algeria." If he had said this, if they had said it, this 
nightmare of air piracy wouldn't exist today. Instead no one 
reacted, and today air piracy is a custom of our times. Any 
madman can hijack a plane to indulge his madness, any crim¬ 
inal can hijack a plane to extort money. You don’t need politi¬ 
cal reasons. 

But let's get back to Europe and the fact that terrorism has 
its headquarters in Europe. In every European capital there 
are offices of so-called liberation movements, and you know 
very well it's not a matter of harmless offices. But you do 
nothing against them. You’ll be sorry. Thanks to your inertia 
and your indulgence, terror will be multiplied and you'll pay 
the price of it too. Haven’t the Germans already done so? 

O.F.: Yes, you were very hard on the Germans after they released 
the three Arabs. 

G.M.: Oh, you must try to understand what the Munich tragedy 
meant to us! The very fact that it happened in Germany . . . 
I mean, postwar Germany is not Nazi Germany. I know Willy 
Brandt; I always meet him at socialist conferences; he was 
once here too, when he was mayor of Berlin, and I'm well 
aware that he fought the Nazis. Not for a moment did I think 
that he was glad to release those Arabs. But Germany . . . 
You see, I’ve never been able to set foot in Germany. I go to 
Austria and can't bring myself to enter Germany. . . . For us 
Jews, relations with Germany are such a conflict between 
mind and heart. . . . Don't make me say such things. I'm 
prime minister, I have certain responsibilities . . . Look, let 

Golda Meir 


me conclude by saying that my harsh judgment couldn’t be 
helped. The statements made by the Germans were like add¬ 
ing insult to injury. After all it was a matter of Arabs who had 
participated in the killing of eleven unarmed Israelis and who 
now will try to kill others. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, do you know what many people think? That Arab 
terrorism exists and will always exist as long as there are Pales¬ 
tinian refugees. 

G.M.: That’s not so, because terrorism has become a kind of inter¬ 
national evil—a sickness that strikes people who have nothing 
to do with Palestinian refugees. Take the example of the Japa¬ 
nese who carried out the Lod massacre. Are the Israelis oc¬ 
cupying any Japanese territory? As for the refugees, listen: 
wherever a war breaks out there are refugees. Palestinian refu¬ 
gees aren’t the only ones in the world; there are Pakistani, 
Hindu, Turkish, German ones. For heaven’s sake, there were 
millions of German refugees along the Polish border that’s 
now inside Poland. And yet Germany assumed the responsi¬ 
bility for these people, who were its own people. And the 
Sudeten Germans? Nobody thinks the Sudeten Germans 
should go back to Czechoslovakia—they themselves know 
they’ll never go back. In the ten years 1 attended United Na¬ 
tions meetings, I never heard anyone talk about the Sudeten 
Germans who were thrown out of Czechoslovakia. Why does 
everyone get so emotional about the Palestinians and no one 

O.F.: But the case of the Palestinians is different, Mrs. Meir, be¬ 
cause . . . 

G.M.: It certainly is. Do you know why? Because when there’s a war 
and people run away, they usually run away to countries with 
a different language and religion. The Palestinians instead fled 
to countries where their own language was spoken and their 
own religion observed. They fled to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan— 
where nobody ever did anything to help them. As for Egypt, 
the Egyptians who took Gaza didn’t even allow the Pales¬ 
tinians to work and kept them in poverty so as to use them as a 
weapon against us. That’s always been the policy of the Arab 
countries: to use the refugees as a weapon against us. Ham- 


marskjold had proposed a development plan for the Middle 
East, and this plan provided first of all for the resettlement of 
the Palestinian refugees. But the Arab countries said no. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, don't you at least feel a little sorry for them? 

G.M.: Of course I do. But pity is not responsibility, and the respon¬ 
sibility for the Palestinians isn't ours, it’s the Arabs'. We in 
Israel have absorbed about 1,400,000 Arab Jews: from Iraq, 
from Yemen, from Egypt, from Syria, from North African 
countries like Morocco. People who when they got here were 
full of diseases and didn't know how to do anything. Among 
the seventy thousand Jews who came here from Yemen, for 
example, there wasn't a single doctor or a single nurse, and al¬ 
most all of them had tuberculosis. And still we took them, and 
built hospitals for them, and took care of them, we educated 
them, put them in clean houses, and turned them into 
farmers, doctors, engineers, teachers . . . Among the 150,000 
Jews who came here from Iraq, there was only a very small 
group of intellectuals, and yet today their children go to the 
university. Of course, we have problems with them—all that 
glitters is not gold—but the fact remains that we accepted and 
helped them. The Arabs, on the other hand, never do any¬ 
thing for their own people. They make use of them and that's 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, what if Israel let the Palestinian refugees come 
back here? 

G.M.: Impossible. For twenty years they’ve been fed on hatred for 
us; they can’t come back among us. Their children weren’t 
born here, they were born in the camps, and the only thing 
they know is that they must kill Israelis, destroy Israel. We 
found arithmetic books in the Gaza schools that put problems 
like this: “You have five Israelis. You kill three of them. How 
many Israelis are left to be killed?" When you teach such 
things to children of seven or eight, there's no more hope. 
Oh, it would be a great misfortune if there were no other solu¬ 
tion for them but to return here! But there is a solution. It was 
demonstrated by the Jordanians when they gave them citizen¬ 
ship and called on them to build a country called Jordan. Yes, 
what Abdullah and Hussein did was much better than what 
the Egyptians did. But did you know that in the good old days 

Golda Meir 


in Jordan, Palestinians were holding office as prime minister 
and foreign minister? Did you know that after the partition of 
1922 Jordan had only three hundred thousand Bedouins and 
that Palestinian refugees were in the majority? Why didn't 
they accept Jordan as their country, why . . . ? 

O.F.: Because they don't recognize themselves as Jordanians, Mrs. 
Meir. Because they say they are Palestinians and that their 
home is in Palestine, not Jordan. 

G.M.: Then we have to understand what we mean by the word Pal¬ 
estine. We must remember that when England assumed the 
mandate over Palestine, Palestine was the land included be¬ 
tween the Mediterranean and the borders of Iraq. This Pales¬ 
tine covered both banks of the Jordan, and was even governed 
by the same high commissioner. Then in 1922 Churchill par¬ 
titioned it, and the territory’ west of the Jordan became Cisjor- 
dania, and the territory' east of the Jordan became Transjor- 
dania. Two names for the same people. Abdullah, Hussein’s 
grandfather, had Transjordania and later he also took over Cis- 
jordania, but, I repeat, it was still the same people. The same 
Palestine. Before liquidating Israel, Arafat should liquidate 
Hussein. But Arafat is so ignorant. He doesn’t even know that, 
at the end of the First World War, what now is Israel wasn’t 
called Palestine: it was called Southern Syria. And then . . . 
after all! If we must talk about refugees, I’ll remind you that 
for centuries the Jews were refugees par excellence! Dispersed 
in countries where their language wasn’t spoken, their religion 
not observed, their customs not recognized . . . Russia, 
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, France, Italy, England, Ara¬ 
bia, Africa . . . Shut up in ghettos, persecuted, exterminated. 
And yet they survived, and they never stopped being a people, 
and they came together again to found a nation. . . . 

O.F.: But that’s just what the Palestinians want, Mrs. Meir: to form 
a nation. It’s just for this reason that some people say they 
should have their state on the West Bank. 

G.M.: Look, I’ve already explained that to east and west of the Jor¬ 
dan you find the same people. I’ve already explained that once 
they were called Palestinians and later were called Jordanians. 
If they now want to call themselves Palestinians or Jordanians, 

I couldn’t care less. It’s none of my business. But it is my busi- 



ness that they don’t set up another Arab state between Israel 
and what is now called Jordan. In the stretch of land between 
the Mediterranean and the borders of Iraq, there’s room for 
only two countries: one Arab and one Jewish. If we sign a 
peace treaty with Hussein and define our borders with Jordan, 
whatever happens on the other side of the border won’t con¬ 
cern Israel. The Palestinians can come to any arrangement 
they like with Hussein; they can call that state what they like, 
give it any regime they like. The important thing is that a third 
Arab state doesn’t emerge between us and Jordan. We don’t 
want it. We can’t allow it. Because it would come to be used 
as a dagger against us. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, I’d like to take up another subject. And here it is. 
When one has a dream, this dream feeds on utopia. And 
when the dream is realized, one discovers that . . . utopia is 
utopia. Are you satisfied with what Israel is today? 

G.M.: I’m a frank woman. I’ll answer you frankly. As a socialist, no. 
I can’t say that Israel is what I dreamed. As a Jewish socialist 
who has always laid great stress on the Jewish component in 
her socialism, well, Israel is more than what I dreamed. Now 
I’ll explain. For me, the realization of Zionism is part of so¬ 
cialism. I know that other socialists won’t agree with me, but 
that’s how I think of it. I’m not objective about this, and I 
think there are a couple of gross injustices in the world: the 
one oppressing black Africans and the one oppressing Jews. 
And besides I think these two injustices can only be corrected 
by socialist principles. To see justice for the Jewish people has 
been the purpose of my life and ... to cut it short, forty or 
fifty years ago, I had no hopes at all that the Jews would have a 
sovereign state. We do have one now, so it doesn’t seem to me 
right to worry too much about its faults and defects. We have 
a soil where we can put our feet, where we can realize our 
ideals of socialism that before were just hanging in the air. 
That’s already a lot. Of course, if I were really to examine my 
thoughts . . . 

O.F.: What is it you don’t like in Israel? What is it that’s disap¬ 
pointed you? 

G.M.: Oh ... I think that none of us dreamers realized in the 

Golda Meir 


beginning what difficulties would come up. For example, we 
hadn’t foreseen the problem of bringing together Jews who had 
grown up in such different countries and remained divided 
from each other for so many centuries. Jews have come here 
from all over the world, as we wanted, yes. But each group 
had its own language, its own culture, and to integrate it with 
other groups has been much more difficult than it seemed in 
theory. It’s not easy to create an homogenous nation with peo¬ 
ple so different. . . . There was bound to be a clash. And it 
gave me disappointment and grief. Also . . . you’ll think me 
foolish, naive, but I thought that in a Jewish state there 
wouldn’t be the evils that afflict other societies. Theft, murder, 
prostitution ... I thought so because we had started out well. 
F'ifteen years ago in Israel there were almost no thefts, and 
there were no murders, there was no prostitution. Now instead 
we have everything, everything. . . . And it’s something that 
breaks your heart; it hurts more than to discover that you still 
haven’t created a more just, a more equal society. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, but do you still believe in socialism as you did 
forty’ years ago? 

G.M.: Essentially, yes. That’s still the basic idea. . . . But to be 
honest, one must look at things realistically. One must admit 
that there’s a big difference between socialist ideology and so¬ 
cialism as put to a practical test. All socialist parties that have 
come to form governments and assumed the responsibilities 
for a country’ have had to stoop to compromise. Not only that, 
ever since socialists have been in power in individual coun¬ 
tries, international socialism has declined. It was one thing to 
be an international socialist when I was a girl, that is when no 
socialist party was in power, and quite another now. The 
dream I had, the dream of a just world united in socialism, 
has gone to the devil. National interests have prevailed over 
international interests, and the Swedish socialists have shown 
themselves to be first of all Swedes, the English socialists first 
of all Englishmen, the Jewish socialists first of all Jews. . . . 
T his 1 began to understand during the war in Spain. In a lot of 
countries there were socialists in power. But they didn’t lift a 
finger for the Spanish socialists. 



O.F. : But what socialism are we talking about, Mrs. Meir? I mean, 
do you agree with Nenni when he says that he's come to prefer 
Swedish socialism? 

G.M.: Of course! Because, you see, you can have all the dreams you 
like, but when you’re dreaming, you’re not awake. And when 
you wake up, you realize that your dream has very little in 
common with reality’. To be free, to be able to say what you 
think, that’s so necessary. . . . Soviet Russia isn’t poor, it isn’t 
illiterate, and yet there the people don’t dare speak. And privi¬ 
lege still exists. ... At the United Nations I never saw any 
difference between the foreign ministers of socialist countries 
and the foreign ministers of reactionary countries. A year ago, 
by abstaining from voting, they even let a resolution pass call¬ 
ing us war criminals. And I told my socialist colleagues when I 
met them at the Vienna Conference: “Your country abstained 
from voting. So that makes me a war criminal, eh?” But you 
were speaking of Pietro Nenni . . . Nenni is something else. 
Nenni’s a separate chapter in the history of socialism. Nenni’s 
one of the best individuals existing in the world today. Because 
he’s so honest, there’s such rectitude in him, such humanity, 
such courage of his convictions! 1 admire him like no one 
else. I’m proud to be able to call him a friend. And ... of 
course I think the same as he does about socialism! 

O.F. : Mrs. Meir, do you know what I’ve been thinking, listening to 
you? I’ve been wondering if so much sadness hasn’t made you 
cynical, or at least disillusioned. 

G.M.: Oh, no! Me, I’m not at all cynical! I’ve lost my illusions, 
that’s all. For example, forty or fifty years ago, I thought that a 
socialist was always an honest person, incapable of telling lies. 
Now I know instead that a socialist is a human being like any¬ 
one else, capable of lying like anyone else, and behaving dis¬ 
honestly like anyone else. That’s sad, of course, but it’s not 
enough to make you lose your faith in man! Not enough to 
conclude: man is fundamentally bad. No, no! Look, when I 
meet someone, I always think that this is an honest person and 
I go on thinking so until I have proof to the contrary. If later 1 
do have proof to the contrary, I still don’t say that that person 
is bad. I say that he or she has behaved badly with me. After 
all, I’m not suspicious. I never expect the worst from people. 

Golda Meir 


And ... I don’t know if I’d call myself an optimist. At my 
age, optimism is too much of a luxury. But, look, in my long 
life I’ve seen so much evil, that’s true. In return, I’ve also seen 
so much good. So very much. . . . And if in my memory I 
go over the many individuals I’ve known, believe me, there 
are very few I can judge in a completely negative way. 

O.F.: But are you religious, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: No! Oh, no! I never have been. Not even when I was a little 
girl. No, this attitude of mine doesn’t come from a religious 
faith. It comes from my instinctive faith in men, from my 
stubborn love for humanity. Religion . . . You know, my 
family was traditional but not religious. Only my grandfather 
was religious, but with him you go very far back in time, you 
go back to the days when we lived in Russia. In America, you 
see . . . we spoke Hebrew among ourselves, we observed the 
holidays, but we went to temple very seldom. I only went for 
the New Year, to go with my mother and find her a place to 
sit. The only time I’ve followed the prayers in a synagogue was 
in Moscow. And you know what I say? If I’d stayed in Russia, 
I might have become religious. Maybe. 

O.F.: Why? 

G.M.: Because in Russia the synagogue is the only place where Jews 
can express themselves. Listen to what I did when I was sent to 
Moscow in 1948 by my gov ernment, as head of the diplomatic 
mission. Before leaving I gathered all the people who were 
going with me and said, “Take all your prayer books, prayer 
shawls, yarmulkes, everything. I’m sure we’ll meet Jews only 
in the synagogue.” Well, that’s just how it happened. Of 
course, the first Saturday no one knew I’d go to the synagogue 
and I found hardly two hundred people there. Or a little 
more. But for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and for 
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, they came in thousands. 

I stayed in the synagogue from morning to night, and at the 
moment when the rabbi intoned the last sentence of the prayer 
of atonement, the one that says “Leshana habaa b'Yerusha- 
laym , next year in Jerusalem,” the whole synagogue seemed to 
tremble. And I, who am an emotional woman, prayed. 
Really. You understand, it wasn’t like being in Buenos Aires or 
New York and saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.” From 

1 io 


Buenos Aires, New York, you take a plane and you go. There 
in Moscow, the invocation took on a special meaning. And 
while praying, I said, “God, make it really happen! If not next 
year, in a few years/' Does God exist and did he listen to me? 
It’s really happening. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, don't you feel some sentimental tie with Russia? 

G.M.: No, none. You know, many of my friends who left Russia as 
adults say that they feel attached to that country, to its scenery, 
its literature, its music. But I didn't get time to appreciate 
those things. I was too little when I left Russia; 1 was only 
eight, and of Russia I only have bad memories. No, from Rus¬ 
sia I didn’t take with me even a single moment of joy—all my 
memories up to the age of eight are tragic memories. The 
nightmare of pogroms, the brutality of the Cossacks charging 
down on young socialists, fear, shrieking—that's the luggage I 
packed in Russia and carried to the United States. Do you 
know what’s the first memory in my life? My father nailing up 
the door and windows to keep the Cossacks from breaking into 
our house and killing us. Oh, that sound of the hammer 
pounding nails into the wooden planks! Oh, the sound of 
horses' hoofs when the Cossacks are advancing along our 

O.F.: How old were you, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: Five or six. But I remember everything so vividly. We lived 
in Kiev, and the day my father left Kiev to go to the United 
States . . . We were very poor, we didn't even have enough 
to eat, and he thought of going to America for a year or two, 
saving a little money and coming back. In the early 1900s, to 
the Jews America was a kind of bank where you went to pick 
up the dollars scattered on the sidewalks and came back with 
your pockets full. So my father left Kiev, but Kiev was a city 
forbidden to Jews who didn't have a job, for example a job like 
my father's, he being a craftsman, and once he had left, we 
had to leave too. 

And we went to Pinsk, I, my mother, my two sisters. That 
was in 1903. We stayed in Pinsk until 1905, when the brutal¬ 
ity of the czarist regime reached its height. The Constitution 
of 1905, in fact, was a dirty lie—a trick to gather the socialists 
together and arrest them more easily. And my elder sister, who 

Golda Meir 


was nine years older than I, belonged to the socialist move¬ 
ment. Her political activities kept her out late at night, and it 
used to drive my mother crazy because our house was next to 
a police station where they brought the young socialists they'd 
arrested and . . . They beat them to death and every night 
you heard such cries! My mother always thought she could 
recognize my sister’s voice. “It’s she! It’s she!” Oh, we were so 
happy when my father wrote us to join him in America be¬ 
cause in America things were good! 

O.F.: You’re very attached to America, aren’t you? 

G.M.: Yes, and not only because I grew up in America, because in 
America I went to school, and lived there until I was almost 
twenty. Because . . . well, because in America I lost my ter¬ 
ror of Pinsk, of Kiev. How can I explain the difference for me 
between America and Russia? Look, when we arrived, I was a 
little more than eight years old, my elder sister was seventeen, 
and my younger one four and a half. My father was working 
and belonged to the union. He was very proud of his union, 
and two months later, on Labor Day, he said to my mother, 
“Today there’s a parade. If you all come to the corner of such 
and such a street, you’ll see me marching with my union!” 
My mother took us along, and while we were there waiting for 
the parade, along came the mounted police to clear a path for 
the marchers—do you see? But my little four-and-a-half-year- 
old sister couldn’t know that, and when she saw the police on 
horseback, she began to tremble and then to cry, “The Cos¬ 
sacks! The Cossacks!” We had to take her away, without giving 
my father the satisfaction of seeing him marching with his 
union, and she stayed in bed for days with a high fever, re¬ 
peating: “The Cossacks! The Cossacks!” So, look, the America 
I knew is a place where men on horseback protect a parade of 
workers, the Russia I knew is a place where men on horseback 
massacre Jews and young socialists. 

O.F.: That’s not exactly how it is, Mrs. Meir, but anyway . . . 

G.M.: Oh, listen! America is a great country. It has many faults, 
many social inequalities, and it’s a tragedy that the Negro 
problem wasn’t resolved fifty or a hundred years ago, but it’s 
still a great country, a country full of opportunity, of freedom! 
Does it seem to you nothing to be able to say what you like, to 



write what you like, even against the government, the Es¬ 
tablishment? Maybe Fm not objective, but for America I feel 
such gratitude! Fm fond of America, okay? 

O.F. : Okay. We’ve finally come to the figure of Golda Meir. So 
shall we talk about the woman Ben-Gurion called “the ablest 
man in my cabinet”? 

G.M.: That’s one of the legends that’s grown up around me. It’s also 
a legend I’ve always found irritating, though men use it as a 
great compliment. Is it? I wouldn’t say so. Because what does 
it really mean? That it’s better to be a man than a woman, a 
principle on which I don’t agree at all. So here’s what I’d like 
to say to those who make me such a compliment: And what if 
Ben-Gurion had said, “The men in my cabinet are as able as a 
woman”? Men always feel so superior! I’ll never forget what 
happened at a congress of my party in New York in the 1930s. 
I made a speech, and in the audience there was a writer friend 
of mine. An honest person, a man of great culture and refine¬ 
ment. When it was over, he came up to me and exclaimed, 
“Congratulations! You’ve made a wonderful speech! And to 
think you’re only a woman!” That’s just what he said, in such 
a spontaneous, instinctive way. It’s a good thing I have a sense 
of humor. . . . 

O.F.: The Women’s Liberation Movement will like that, Mrs. 

G.M.: Do you mean those crazy women who burn their bras and go 
around all disheveled and hate men? They’re crazy. Crazy. 
But how can one accept such crazy women who think it’s a 
misfortune to get pregnant and a disaster to bring children into 
the world? And when it’s the greatest privilege we women have 
over men! Feminism . . . Listen, I got into politics at the 
time of the First World War, when I was sixteen or seventeen, 
and I’ve never belonged to a women’s organization. When I 
joined the Zionist labor movement, I found only two other 
women—ninety percent of my comrades were men. I’ve lived 
and worked among men all my life, and yet to me the fact of 
being a woman has never, never I say, been an obstacle. It’s 
never made me uncomfortable or given me an inferiority com¬ 
plex. Men have always been good to me. 

O.F.: Are you saying you prefer them to women? 

Golda Meir 


G.M.: No, I’m saying that I’ve never suffered on account of men 
because I was a woman. I’m saying that men have never given 
me special treatment but neither have they put obstacles in my 
way. Of course I’ve been lucky, of course not all women have 
had the same experience, but be that as it may, my personal 
case doesn’t prove that those crazy women are right. There’s 
only one point on which I agree with them: to be successful, a 
woman has to be much more capable than a man. Whether 
she dedicates herself to a profession or dedicates herself to poli¬ 
tics. There aren’t many women in our parliament, something 
that bothers me a lot. And these few women, let me assure 
you, are by no means less capable than men. In fact, they’re 
often much more capable. So it’s ridiculous that toward 
women there still exist so many reservations, so many injus¬ 
tices, that when a list is being drawn up for the elections, for 
example, only men’s names get chosen. But is it all the fault 
of men? Wouldn’t it be, at least partly, the fault of women 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, you’ve just said that to be successful a woman has 
to be much more capable than a man. Doesn’t that perhaps 
mean it’s more difficult to be a woman than a man? 

G.M.: Yes, of course. More difficult, more tiring, more painful. But 
not necessarily through the fault of men—for biological rea¬ 
sons, I’d say. After all, it’s the woman who gives birth. It’s the 
woman who raises the children. And when a woman doesn’t 
want only to give birth, to raise children . . . when a woman 
also wants to work, to be somebody . . . well, it’s hard. Hard, 
hard. I know it from personal experience. You’re at your job 
and you think of the children you’ve left at home. You’re at 
home and you think of the work you’re not doing. Such a 
struggle breaks out in you, your heart goes to pieces. Unless 
you live in a kibbutz, where life is organized in such a way 
that you can both work and have children. Outside the kib¬ 
butz, it’s all running around, trying to be in two places at 
once, getting upset, and . . . well, all this can’t help but be 
reflected on the structure of the family. Especially if your hus¬ 
band is not a social animal like yourself and feels uncomfort¬ 
able with an active wife, a wife for whom it’s not enough to be 
only a wife. . . . There has to be a clash. And the clash may 



even break up the marriage. As happened to me. Yes, I’ve 
paid for being what I am. I’ve paid a lot. 

O.F.: In what sense, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: In the sense of . . . pain. Because, you see, I know that my 
children, when they were little, suffered a lot on my account. 

I left them alone so often. ... I was never with them when I 
should have been and would have liked to be. Oh, I re¬ 
member how happy they were, my children, every time I 
didn’t go to work because of a headache. They jumped and 
laughed and sang, “Mamma’s staying home! Mamma has a 
headache!” I have a great sense of guilt toward Sarah and 
Menahem, even today when they’re adults and have children 
of their own. And still . . . still I have to be honest and ask 
myself, Golda, deep in your heart do you really regret the fact 
that you behaved as you did with them? No. Not deep in my 
heart. Because through suffering I gave them a life that’s more 
interesting, less banal than the ordinary. I mean, they didn’t 
grow up in a narrow family environment. They met important 
people, they heard serious discussions, they took part in big 
things. And if you talk to them, they’ll tell you the same 
thing. They’ll tell you: “Yes, Mamma neglected us too much, 
she made us suffer by her absence, her politics, by not paying 
attention to us, but we can’t bear her a grudge because, being 
the way she was, she gave us so much more than any other 

If you knew how proud I felt the day that ... In 1948, the 
time when we were fighting the British, I was writing the 
handbills that the boys and girls in the movement pasted on 
the walls at night. My daughter didn’t know I was the one who 
was writing those handbills, and one day she said to me, 
“Mamma, I’ll be back late tonight. And maybe I won’t come 
back.” “Why?” I asked, alarmed. “I can’t tell you, Mamma.” 
Then she went out with a package under her arm. Nobody 
could know better than I what was in that package, and put¬ 
ting up handbills at night was very dangerous. I stayed up till 
dawn waiting for Sarah, cursing myself in the fear that some¬ 
thing had happened to her. But at the same time I was so 
proud of her! 

Golda Meir 

ii 5 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, that sense of guilt that you feel toward your chil¬ 
dren, did you also feel it toward your husband? 

G.M.: Let’s not talk about that ... I don’t want to talk about it 
... I never talk about it . . . Well, all right, let’s try. You 
see, my husband was an extraordinarily nice person. Edu¬ 
cated, kind, good. Everything about him was good. But he 
was also a person who was only interested in his family, his 
home, his music, his books. He was aware of social problems, 
of course, but when it came to his home and the unity of his 
family, they lost whatever interest they had for him. I was too 
different from him. I had always been. Domestic bliss wasn’t 
enough for me, I had to be doing what I was doing! To give it 
up would have seemed to me an act of cowardice, of dishon¬ 
esty with myself. 1 would have become set in my discontent, 
in sadness. . . . 

I met my husband when I was just fifteen. We got married 
very soon, and from him I learned all the beautiful things like 
music and poetry. But 1 wasn’t bom to be satisfied with music 
and poetry, and ... He wanted me to stay home and forget 
about politics. Instead I was always out, always in politics and 
. . . Of course 1 have a sense of guilt toward him too. ... I 
made him suffer so much, him too. ... He came to Israel 
because I wanted to come to Israel. He came to the kibbutz 
because 1 wanted to be on a kibbutz. He took up a way of life 
that didn’t suit him because it was the kind of life that I 
couldn’t do without. ... It was a tragedy. A great tragedy. 
Because, as I say, he was a wonderful person and with a dif¬ 
ferent woman he could have been very happy. 

O.F.: Didn’t you ever make an effort to adapt yourself to him, to 
please him? 

G.M.: For him I made the biggest sacrifice of my life: I left the kib¬ 
butz. You see, there was nothing 1 loved so much as the kib¬ 
butz. I liked everything about the kibbutz: the manual work, 
the comradeship, the discomforts. Ours was in the valley of 
Jezreel, and in the beginning it had nothing to offer but 
swamps and sand, but soon it became a garden full of orange 
trees, fruits, and just to look at it gave me such joy that I could 
have spent my whole life there. Instead he couldn’t stand it, 


1 l6 

neither psychologically nor physically. He couldn’t stand eat¬ 
ing at the communal table with the rest of us. He couldn’t 
stand the hard work. He couldn’t stand the climate and the 
feeling of being part of a community. He was too individ¬ 
ualistic, too introverted, too delicate. He got sick and ... we 
had to leave, go back to the city, to Tel Aviv. It was a feeling 
of pain that still goes through me like a needle. It was really a 
tragedy for me, but I put up with it, thinking that in the city 
the family would be more tranquil and more united. But it 
wasn’t like that. And in 1938 we separated. Then in 1951 he 

O.F.: Wasn’t he proud of you, at least in the last years? 

G.M.: I don’t know ... I don’t think so. I don’t know what he 
thought in the last years, and besides he was so withdrawn that 
nobody would have been able to guess it. Anyway his tragedy 
didn’t come from the fact of not understanding me—he un¬ 
derstood me very well. It came from the fact that he did un¬ 
derstand me, and at the same time realized he couldn’t change 
me. In short, he knew I had no choice, that I had to be what I 
was. But he didn’t approve, that’s it. And who knows if he 
wasn’t right. 

O.F.: But you never thought of getting a divorce, Mrs. Meir, you 
never thought of getting married again when he died? 

G.M.: Oh, no! Never! Such an idea never entered my head, never! 
I’ve always gone on thinking of myself as married to him! After 
the separation we still saw each other. Sometimes he came to 
see me in my office. . . . Maybe you haven’t understood one 
important thing: even though we were so different and incapa¬ 
ble of living together, there was always love between us. Ours 
was a great love; it lasted from the day we met till the day he 
died. And a love like that can’t be replaced. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, is it true you’re very modest? How should I say it 
. . . very puritanical, very concerned with morality? 

G.M.: Look, as I said before, I’ve always lived among men. And 
never, never has a man allowed himself to tell a dirty joke in 
my presence, to say anything disrespectful or proposition me. 
Do you know why? Because I’ve always said that if I’m given a 
glass of water, that water must be clean. Otherwise I don’t 
drink it. That’s the way I am; I like things to be clean. A dear 

Golda Meir 


friend of mine once said to me, “Golda, don’t be so rigid. 
There are no moral or immoral things. There are only beauti¬ 
ful or ugly things.” I suppose he was right. What’s more, I 
suppose that the same thing can be beautiful and ugly. Be¬ 
cause to some it looks beautiful and to others ugly. However 
... I don’t know how to explain. . . . Maybe this way: love 
is always beautiful, but the act of love with a prostitute is ugly. 

O.F.: They say too that you’re very hard, inflexible . . . 

G.M.: I, hard? No. There are a few points, in politics, on which 
they might think me hard. In fact, I’m not one to compromise 
and I say so adamantly. I believe in Israel, I don’t yield when 
it comes to Israel—period. Yes, in that sense the word inflexi¬ 
ble applies to me. But otherwise, I mean in private life, with 
people, with human problems . . . it’s foolish to say I’m 
hard. I’m the most sensitive creature that you’ll ever meet. It’s 
no accident that many accuse me of making political decisions 
on the basis of my feelings instead of my brain. Well, what if I 
do? I don’t see anything bad in that, quite the contrary. I’ve 
always felt sorry for people who are afraid of their feelings, of 
their emotions, and who hide what they feel and can’t cry 
wholeheartedly. Because anyone who can’t cry wholeheartedly 
can’t laugh wholeheartedly either. 

O.F.: Do you sometimes really cry? 

G.M.: Do I! And how! And yet if you were to ask me, “Tell me, 
Golda, have you had more laughter or tears in your life?” I’d 
answer, “I think I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried.” Aside 
from my family dramas, my life has been so lucky. I’ve known 
such fine people, I’ve had the friendship of such interesting 
people—especially in the fifty' years I’ve spent in Israel. I’ve 
always moved within a circle of intellectual giants; I’ve always 
been appreciated and loved. And what else can you ask of for¬ 
tune? I’d really be ungrateful if I didn’t know how to laugh. 

O.F.: Not bad for a woman who’s considered the symbol of Israel. 

G.M.: I, a symbol?! Some symbol! Are you maybe pulling my leg? 
You didn’t know the great men who were really the symbol of 
Israel, the men who founded Israel and by whom it was influ¬ 
enced. Ben-Gurion is the only one of them left, and I swear to 
you on my children and grandchildren that I’ve never put 
myself in the same category’ as a Ben-Gurion or a Katznelson. 


1 l8 

I'm not crazy! I’ve done what I’ve done, that's true. But I can't 
say that if I hadn’t done what I’ve done, Israel would have 
been any different. 

O.F.: Then why do they say that you're the only one who can hold 
the country together? 

G.M.: Nonsense! Now I’ll tell you something that’ll convince you. 
When Eshkol died in 1969, they conducted a poll to find out 
how much popularity his possible successors had. And you 
know how many people came out for me? One percent. 
Maybe one and a half percent. All right, there was a crisis in 
my party and even as foreign minister I’d felt the effects of 
it—but still one, one and a half percent! And a woman so un¬ 
popular up until three years ago should today be the one hold¬ 
ing the country together? Believe me, the country holds 
together by itself; it doesn’t need a prime minister named 
Golda Meir. If the young people were to say, ‘‘Enough fighting, 
enough war, let’s surrender,” no Golda Meir could do any¬ 
thing about it. If in the kibbutzim of Beth Shean, they had 
said, “Enough of living under the rockets of the fedayeen, 
enough sleeping in shelters, let's go away,” no Golda Meir 
would have been able to do anything about it. What’s more, it 
was by accident that Golda Meir got to lead the country. 
Eshkol was dead, someone had to take his place, and the party 
thought I might replace him because I was acceptable to all 
factions and . . . that’s all. In fact, I didn’t even want to ac¬ 
cept. I had got out of governmental politics, I was tired. You 
can ask my children and grandchildren. 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, don’t try to tell me that you’re not aware of your 

G.M.: Of course I am! I don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur, but 
neither am I troubled by an inferiority complex. When I deny 
being a symbol and holding the country together, I’m not say¬ 
ing I’m a failure! I may not always have been perfect but I 
don’t see that I’ve failed in my career, either as labor minister, 
or foreign minister, or party secretary, or head of the govern¬ 
ment. Indeed I must admit that, in my opinion, women can 
be good government leaders, good heads of state. Oh, Lord, 
maybe I would have functioned just as well if I’d been a man. 
... I don’t know, I can’t prove it, I’ve never been a man. 

Golda Meir 


. . . But I think that women, more than men, possess a ca¬ 
pacity that helps in doing this job. It’s that of going right to the 
essence of things, of taking the bull by the horns. Women are 
more practical, more realistic. They don’t dissipate themselves 
in mystifications like men, who always beat around the bush 
trying to get to the heart of the matter. 

O.F.: And yet you sometimes speak as though you didn't like your¬ 
self. Do you like yourself, Mrs. Meir? 

G.M.: What person with any sense likes himself? I know myself too 
well to like myself. I know all too well that I’m not what I’d 
like to be. And to give you an idea what I’d like to be, I’ll tell 
you who I like: my daughter. Sarah is so good, so intelligent, 
so intellectually honest! When she believes in something, she 
goes all the way. When she thinks something, she says it 
without mincing words. And she never gives in to others, to 
the majority. I really can’t say the same for myself. When 
you’re doing the job I’m doing, you always have to stoop to 
compromises, you can never let yourself remain one hundred 
percent faithful to your ideas. Of course, there’s a limit to 
compromise, and I can’t say I always stoop to them. However, 
I stoop enough. And that’s bad. That’s another reason why I 
can’t wait to retire. 

O.F.: Will you really retire? 

G.M.: I give you my word. Listen, in May next year I’ll be seventy- 
five. I’m old. I’m exhausted. My health is essentially good, my 
heart functions, but I can’t go on with this madness forever. If 
you only knew how many times I say to myself: To hell with 
everything, to hell with everybody, I’ve done my share, now 
let the others do theirs, enough, enough, enough! There are 
days when I’d like to pack up and leave without telling any¬ 
one. If I’ve stayed this long, if for the moment I’m still here, 
it’s out of duty and nothing else. I can’t just throw everything 
out the window! Yes, many don’t believe that I’ll leave. Well, 
they’d better believe it, I’ll even give you the date: October 
1973. In October of 73 there’ll be elections. Once they’re 
over, good-by! 

O.F.: I don’t believe it. And everyone says you’ll change your mind 
because you aren’t able to sit still and do nothing. 

G.M.: Look, there’s another thing that people don’t know about me. 



By nature, I’m a lazy woman. I'm not one of those people 
who has to fill up every minute or else get sick. I like to be 
with nothing to do, even just sitting in an armchair, or wasting 
time with little things I enjoy. Cleaning the house, ironing, 
cooking a meal . . . I’m an excellent cook, an excellent 
housewife. My mother used to say, “But why do you want to 
study? You’re such a good housewife!” And then I like to 
sleep. Oh, I like it so much! I like to be with people, to talk 
about this and that—to hell with serious talk, political talk! I 
like to go to the theater. I like to go to the movies, without my 
bodyguard underfoot. How did it happen that whenever I want 
to see a film, they even send the Israeli army reserves along 
with me? This is a life? It’s been years that I haven’t been able 
to do what I like, to sleep, to talk about trivial things, to sit 
with my hands folded. I’m always tied to this piece of paper 
that lists what I have to do, what I have to say, half hour by 
half hour. 

Ah! And then there’s my family. I don’t want my grand¬ 
children to say, “Grandma behaved badly with her children 
and neglected them, and later she behaved badly with us and 
neglected us.” I’m a grandmother. I don’t have many more 
years to live. And I intend to spend those years with my grand¬ 
children. I also intend to spend them with my books. I have 
shelves full of books that I’ve never read. At two in the morn¬ 
ing when I go to bed, I take one of them in my hand and try 
to read it, but after two minutes—pff!—I fall asleep and the 
book drops. Finally I want to go to Sarah’s kibbutz when I 
like. For a week, a month, not rush there Friday evening to 
rush back on Saturday evening. I should be the master of the 
clock, not the clock the master of me. 

O.F.: So you’re not afraid of old age. 

G.M.: No, it’s never frightened me. When I know I can change 
things, I become as active as a cyclone. And almost always I 
succeed in changing them. But when I know I can’t do any¬ 
thing, I resign myself. I’ll never forget the first time I flew in 
an airplane—in 1929, from Los Angeles to Seattle. For my 
work, eh, not for fun! It was a little plane and the moment it 
took off, I thought: How crazy! Why did I do it? But right after 
that I calmed down—what good would it do to get frightened? 

Golda Meir 


Another time I flew from New York to Chicago with a friend 
of mine, and we got caught in an awful storm. The plane was 
bouncing and swaying, and my friend cried like a baby. So I 
said to him, “Stop it, why are you crying, what good does it 
do?” My dear, old age is like an airplane flying in a storm. 
Once you're in it, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop a 
plane, you can’t stop a storm, you can’t stop time. So you 
might as well take it easy, with wisdom. 

O.F.: Is it this wisdom that sometimes makes you severe with young 

G.M.: Listen, you’d have to be crazy not to realize that the younger 
generations think differently and that that’s the way it should 
be. It would really be drear\ f if every generation was a copy of 
the previous one; the world wouldn’t go forward any more. I 
accept the fact with joy that young people are different from 
me. What I condemn in them is their presumption in saying, 
“Everything you’ve done is wrong so we’ll redo it all from the 
beginning.” Well, if they were to do it all over again better, I 
wouldn’t even mind, but in many cases they’re no better than 
us old people and can even be worse. The calendar isn’t the 
standard for good and evil! I know selfish and reactionary 
young people and generous and progressive old ones. And 
then there’s another thing I condemn in young people: their 
mania for copying whatever comes from outside. Their fash¬ 
ions irritate me. Why that music that isn’t music and is only 
good to give you a headache? Why that long hair, those short 
skirts? I hate fashions, and I've always hated them. Fashion is 
an imposition, a lack of freedom. Somebody in Paris decides 
for some reason that women should wear miniskirts, and here 
they all are in miniskirts: long legs, short legs, skinny legs, fat 
legs, ugly legs. . . . Never mind as long as they’re young. 
When they’re fifty, I really get mad. Have you seen those old 
men who grow a bunch of little curls on the back of their 

O.F.: The fact is, Mrs. Meir, that yours was a heroic generation, 
while the one of today . . . 

G.M.: So is the one of today. Like my children’s generation. When 
I see men of forty-five or fifty vvho’ve been fighting the war for 
twenty, thirty years . . . But you know what I say? Even the 



young people of today are a heroic generation. At least in 
Israel. When I think that at eighteen they’ve already been sol¬ 
diers, and that to be a soldier here doesn’t just mean training 
and that’s all . . . I feel my heart bursting. When I go 
among high-school students and think that a whim of Sadat’s 
could tear them away from their desks, I get a lump in my 
throat. For the moment I often get impatient with them. I 
argue with them. But after five minutes I say to myself, Golda, 
in a month they could be at the front. Don’t be impatient with 
them. So let them be conceited, arrogant. So let them wear 
miniskirts, long hair. Last week I was at a kibbutz in the 
north. In the office they were shocked, they said, “To make 
such a trip! So tiring! You’re crazy!” But you know why I 
went? Because the granddaughter of one of my old comrades 
was getting married. And in the Six Day War he had lost two 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, have you ever killed anyone? 

G.M.: No . . . I’ve learned to shoot, of course, but I’ve never hap¬ 
pened to kill anyone. I don’t say it as consolation—there’s no 
difference between killing and making decisions by which you 
send others to kill. It’s exactly the same thing. And maybe it’s 

O.F.: Mrs. Meir, how do you look on death? 

G.M.: I can tell you right away: my only fear is to live too long. You 
know, old age is not a sin and not a joy—there are plenty of 
disagreeable things about old age. Not to be able to run up 
and down the stairs, not to be able to jump. . . . And yet you 
get used to some things without difficulty'. It’s just a matter of 
physical troubles, and physical troubles aren’t degrading. 
What is degrading is to lose your mental lucidity, to become 
senile. Senility . . . I’ve known people who died too soon, 
and that hurt me. I’ve known people who died too late, and 
that hurt me just as much. Listen, for me, to witness the 
decay of a fine intelligence is an insult. I don’t want that insult 
to happen to me. I want to die with my mind clear. Yes, my 
only fear is to live too long. 

Jerusalem , November 1972 


Yasir Arafat 

When he arrived, on the dot for the appointment, I remained for a 
moment uncertain, telling myself no, it couldn’t be he. He seemed 
too young, too innocuous. At least at first glance, I noticed nothing 
in him that showed authority, or that mysterious fluid that always 
emanates from a leader to assail you like a perfume or a slap in the 
face. The only striking thing about him was his mustache, thick 
and identical with the mustaches worn by almost all Arabs, and the 
automatic rifle that he wore on his shoulder with the free-and-easy 
air of one who is never separated from it. Certainly he loved it very 
much, that rifle, to have wrapped the grip with adhesive tape the 
color of a green lizard: somehow amusing. He was short in height, 
five feet three, I’d say. And even his hands were small, even his 
feet. Too small, you thought, to sustain his fat legs and his massive 
trunk, with its huge hips and swollen, obese stomach. 

All this was topped by a small head, the face framed by a kassiah, 
and only by observing this face were you convinced that yes, it was 
he, Yasir Arafat, the most famous guerrilla in the Middle East, the 
man about whom people talked so much, to the point of tedium. A 
very strange, unmistakable face that you would have recognized 
among a thousand in the dark. The face of an actor. Not only for 
the dark glasses that by now distinguished him like the evepatch of 
his implacable enemy Moshe Dayan, but for his mask, which 
resembles no one and recalls the profile of a bird of prey or an 




angry ram. In fact, he has almost no cheeks or forehead. Every¬ 
thing is summed up in a large mouth with red and fleshy lips, then 
in an aggressive nose, and two eyes that though screened by glass 
lenses hypnotize you: large, shining, and bulging. Two ink spots. 
With those eyes he was now looking at me, courteously and absent- 
mindedly. Then in a soft, almost affectionate voice, he murmured 
in English, “Good evening, IT1 be with you in two minutes.” His 
voice had a kind of funny whistle in it. And something feminine. 

Those who had met him by day, when the Jordanian head¬ 
quarters of Al Fatah was thronged with guerrillas and other people, 
swore they had seen around him a stirring excitement, the same as 
he aroused every time he appeared in public. But my appointment 
was at night, and at that hour, ten o'clock, there was almost no 
one. This helped to deprive his arrival of any dramatic atmosphere. 
Not knowing his identity, you would have concluded that the man 
was important only because he was accompanied by a bodyguard. 
But what a bodyguard! The most gorgeous piece of male flesh I had 
ever seen. Tall, slender, elegant: the type who wears camouflage 
coveralls as though they were black tie and tails, with the chiseled 
features of a Western lady-killer. Perhaps because he was blond and 
with blue eyes, I had the spontaneous thought that the handsome 
bodyguard was a Westerner, even a German. And perhaps because 
Arafat brought him along with such tender pride, I had the still 
more spontaneous thought that he was something more than a 
bodyguard. A very loving friend, let's say. In addition to him, who 
soon turned on his heel and disappeared, there was an ugly individ¬ 
ual in civilian clothes who gave you dirty looks as though to say: 
“Touch my chief and I’ll drill you full of holes.” Finally there was 
the escort who was to act as interpreter, and Abu George, who was 
to write down questions and answers so that they could later be 
checked with my text. 

These last two followed us into the room chosen for the inter¬ 
view. In the room there were a few chairs and a desk. With a pro¬ 
vocative, exhibitionist gesture, Arafat put his automatic rifle on the 
desk and sat down with a smile of white teeth, pointed as the teeth 
of a wolf. On his windbreaker, of gray-green cloth, a badge stood 
out wath two Vietnam Marines and the inscription “Black Panthers 
against American Fascism.” It had been given to him by two kids 
from California who called themselves American Marxists and had 

Yasir Arafat 


come with the pretext of offering him the alliance of Rap Brown, 
but in reality to do a film and make money. 1 told him so. He was 
struck by my judgment but not offended. The atmosphere was 
relaxed, cordial, but unpromising. I knew that an interview with 
Arafat is never good for obtaining memorable responses. And even 
less for getting any information out of him. 

The most famous man in the Palestinian resistance is also the 
most mysterious; the curtain of silence surrounding his private life 
is so thick as to make you wonder if it doesn’t constitute a trick to 
increase his publicity, a piece of coquetry' to make him more pre¬ 
cious. Even to obtain an interview with him is very difficult. With 
the excuse that he is always traveling, now to Cairo and now to 
Rabat, now to Lebanon and now to Saudi Arabia, now to Moscow 
and now to Damascus, they keep you waiting for days, for weeks, 
and if then they give it to you, it is with the air of presenting you 
with a special privilege or an exclusive right of which you’re not 

In the meantime, you try, of course, to gather information on 
his character, on his past. But wherever you turn, you find an em¬ 
barrassed silence, only partly justified by the fact that A1 Fatah 
maintains the greatest secrecy about its leaders and never supplies 
you with their biographies. Under-the-table confidences will whis¬ 
per that he’s not a communist, that he never would be even if Mao 
Tse-tung himself were personally to indoctrinate him; he is a sol¬ 
dier, they repeat, a patriot, and not an ideologue. 

Indiscretions by now widespread will confirm that he was born in 
Jerusalem, sometime in the late twenties, that his family was noble 
and his youth spent in easy circumstances: his father owned an old 
fortune still largely unconfiscated. Such confiscation, which took 
place over the course of a century and a half, had been imposed by 
the Egyptians on certain land estates and on certain property in the 
center of Cairo. And then? Let’s see. . . . Then in 1947 Yasir had 
fought against the Jews who were giving birth to Israel and had 
enrolled in Cairo University to study engineering. In those years he 
had also founded the Palestinian Student Association, the same 
from which the nucleus of A1 Fatah was to emerge. Having ob¬ 
tained his degree, he had gone to work in Kuwait; here he had 
founded a newspaper in support of the nationalist struggle, and he 
had joined a group called the Muslim Brothers. In 1955 he had 



gone back to Egypt to take an officers’ training course and special¬ 
ize in explosives; in 1963 he had helped especially in the birth of A1 
Fatah and assumed the name of Abu Ammar. That is, He Who 
Builds, Father Builder. In 1967 he had been elected president of 
the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a movement 
that now includes the members of A1 Fatah, of the Popular Front, 
of Al Saiqa, and so forth; only recently he had been chosen as the 
spokesman of Al Fatah, its messenger. 

At this point, if you asked why, they spread their arms and an¬ 
swered, “Well, someone has to do that too, one person or another, 
it doesn’t make any difference.” Of his daily life they told you 
nothing, except for the detail that he didn’t even have a house. And 
it was true. When he wasn’t staying with his brother in Amman, he 
slept on the bases or wherever he happened to be. It was also true 
that he was not married. There were no known women in his life, 
and despite the gossip of a platonic flirtation with a Jewish woman 
writer who had embraced the Arab cause, it really seemed that he 
could do without them: as I had suspected seeing him arrive with 
the handsome bodyguard. 

You see, my suspicion is that, except for whatever details might 
serve to correct any inexactness, there is nothing more to say about 
Arafat. When a man has a tumultuous past, you feel it even when 
he conceals it, since his past is written on his face, in his eyes. But 
on Arafat’s face you find only that strange mask placed there by 
Mother Nature, not by any experience for which he has paid. 
There is something unsatisfactory about him, something un¬ 
realized. Furthermore, if you stop to think about it, you realize that 
his fame burst out more through the press than through his ex¬ 
ploits. Even worse, it was pulled out of the shadows by Western 
journalists and particularly by the Americans, who are always so 
skillful in inventing personalities or building them up. Just think of 
what they did with the bonzes in Vietnam, and with that nobody 
called the venerable Tri Quang. Of course, Arafat cannot be com¬ 
pared to Tri Quang. He is truly a creator of the Palestinian resis¬ 
tance, or one of its creators, and a strategist. Or one of its strate¬ 
gists. But this doesn’t mean, all the less did it mean when I met 
him, that he was the leader of the Palestinians in war. (The real 
brains of the movement, at the time, was Farolik El Kaddoumi, 

Yasir Arafat 


called Abu Lotuf.) And, in any case, among all the Palestinians I 
met, Arafat remains the one who impressed me least of all. 

Or should I say the one I liked least of all? One thing is certain: 
he is not a man bom to be liked. He is a man bom to irritate. It is 
difficult to feel sympathy for him. First of all for the silent refusal 
that he opposes to anyone attempting a human approach: his cor¬ 
diality is superficial, his politeness (when it exists) is formal, and a 
trifle is enough to make him hostile, cold, and arrogant. He warms 
up only when he gets angry. And then his soft voice becomes a 
loud one, his eyes become pools of hatred, and he looks as though 
he would like to tear you to pieces along with all his enemies. 

Then, a lack of originality and charm characterizes all his re¬ 
plies. In my opinion, it is not the questions that count in an inter¬ 
view but the answers. If a person has talent, you can ask him or her 
the most banal thing in the world: he or she will always find the 
way to answer you brilliantly or profoundly. If a person is medio¬ 
cre, you can put the most acute questions in the world to him or 
her: he or she always answer you as a mediocrity. If then you apply 
such a law to a man struggling between calculation and passions, 
watch out. After listening to him, you’re likely to end up empty- 
handed. With Arafat I really found myself left empty-handed. He 
almost always reacted with indirect or evasive discourses, turns of 
phrase that contained nothing beyond his rhetorical intransigence, 
his constant fear of not persuading me. 

He had no wish to consider, even as part of a dialectical game, 
the point of view of others. Nor is it enough to observe how the en¬ 
counter between an Arab who believes in the war and a European 
who no longer believes in it is an immensely difficult encounter. 
Also because the latter remains imbued with her Christianity, with 
her hatred for hatred, and the other instead remains muffled inside 
his law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, which is the 
epitome of any mistaken pride. But there comes a point at which 
such pride fails, and it is there where Yasir Arafat invokes the un¬ 
derstanding of others or insists on dragging anyone who is disturbed 
by doubts behind his own barricade. To be interested in his cause, 
to admit its fundamental justice, to criticize its weak points, and 
therefore risk one’s own physical and moral safety', are not enough 
for him. Even to this he reacts with the arrogance that 1 men- 



tioned, the most unjustified haughtiness, and that absurd inclina¬ 
tion to pick a quarrel. And aren’t these the characteristics of medi¬ 
ocrity, of insufficient intelligence? 

The interview lasted ninety minutes, a great part of which was 
wasted in translating the answers that he gave me in Arabic. He in¬ 
sisted on this himself—so as to ponder each word, I suppose. And 
each of those ninety minutes left me dissatisfied on the human 
level as well as on the intellectual or political. But I was amused to 
discover that he doesn’t wear dark glasses in the evening because he 
needs them to see. He wears them to be noticed. In fact, whether 
by day or night, he sees very well. With blinkers, but very well. 
Hasn’t he even made a career in recent years? Hasn’t he got himself 
elected head of the whole Palestinian resistance and doesn’t he 
travel around like a chief of state? As such, doesn’t he go to the 
UN where he shouts, “An olive branch in one hand and a gun in 
the other hand,” thus disturbing the best friends of the Palestinian 
cause? Nobody could ever accuse me of denying the rights of the 
Palestinians. I’m convinced that they will win because they must 
win. Yet it is bitter to see their rights advanced by inadequate peo¬ 
ple. And here is my personal judgment on Arafat: someone that 
history will inevitably reassess, like Kissinger, and restore to his real 

ORIANA fallaci: Abu Ammar, people talk of you so much but al¬ 
most nothing is known about you and . . . 

YASIR ARAFAT: The only thing to say about me is that I’m a humble 
Palestinian fighter. I became one in 1947, along with the rest 
of my family. Yes, that was the year when my conscience was 
awakened and I understood what a barbarous invasion had 
taken place in my country. There had never been one like it 
in the history of the world. 

O.F.: How old were you, Abu Ammar? I ask because there’s some 
controversy about your age. 

Y.A.: No personal questions. 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, I’m only asking how old you are. You’re not a 
woman. You can tell me. 

Y.A.: I said, no personal questions. 

Yasir Arafat 


O.F.: Abu Ammar, if you don’t even want to tell your age, why do 
you always expose yourself to the attention of the world and let 
the world look on you as the head of the Palestinian resis¬ 

Y. a. : But I’m not the head of it! I don’t want to be! Really, I swear 
it. I’m just a member of the Central Committee, one of many, 
and to be precise the one who has been ordered to be the 
spokesman. That is to report what others decide. It’s a great 
misunderstanding to consider me the head—the Palestinian 
resistance doesn’t have a head. We try in fact to apply the con¬ 
cept of collective leadership and obviously the matter presents 
difficulties, but we insist on it since we believe it’s indispens¬ 
able not to entrust the responsibility and prestige to one man 
alone. It’s a modern concept and helps not to do wrong to the 
masses who are fighting, to our brothers who are dying. If I 
should die, your curiosity will be exhausted—you’ll know ev¬ 
erything about me. Until that moment, no. 

o.f. : I wouldn’t say your comrades could afford to let you die, Abu 
Ammar. And, to judge by your bodyguard, I’d say they think 
you’re much more useful if you stay alive. 

y.a.: No. Probably instead I’d be much more useful dead than 
alive. Ah, yes, my death would do much to help the cause, as 
an incentive. Lxt me even add that I have many probabilities 
of dying—it could happen tonight, tomorrow. If I die, it’s not 
a tragedy—someone else will go around in the world to repre¬ 
sent Al Fatah, someone else will direct the battles. . . . I’m 
more than ready to die. I don’t care about my safety as much 
as you think. 

O.F.: I understand. On the other hand, you cross the lines into 
Israel once in a while yourself, don’t you, Abu Ammar? The 
Israelis are convinced that you’ve entered Israel twice, and just 
escaped being ambushed. And they add that anyone who suc¬ 
ceeds in doing this must be very clever. 

Y.a.: \\ hat you call Israel is my home. So I was not in Israel but in 
mv home—with every right to go to my home. Yes, I’ve been 
there, but much more often than only twice. I go there con¬ 
tinually, I go when I like. Of course, to exercise this right is 
fairly difficult—their machine guns are always ready. But it’s 
less difficult than they think; it depends on circumstances, on 



the points chosen. You have to be shrewd about it, they’re 
right about that. It’s no accident that we call these trips “trips 
of the fox.” But you can go ahead and inform them that our 
boys, the fedayeen, make these trips daily. And not always to 
attack the enemy. We accustom them to crossing the lines so 
they’ll know their own land, and learn to move about there 
with ease. Often we get as far, because I’ve done it, as the 
Gaza Strip and the Sinai Desert. We even carry weapons 
there. The Gaza fighters don’t receive their arms by sea—they 
receive them from us, from here. 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, how long will all this go on? How long will you 
be able to resist? 

Y.A.: We don’t even go in for such calculations. We’re only at the 
beginning of this war. We’re only now beginning to prepare 
ourselves for what will be a long, a very long, war. Certainly a 
war destined to be prolonged for generations. Nor are we the 
first generation to fight. The world doesn’t know or forgets that 
in the 1920s our fathers were already fighting the Zionist in¬ 
vader. They were weak then, because too much alone against 
adversaries who were too strong and were supported by the En¬ 
glish, by the Americans, by the imperialists of the earth. But 
we are strong—since January 1965, that is since the day that 
Al Fatah was born, we’re a very dangerous adversary for Israel. 
The fedayeen are acquiring experience, they’re stepping up 
their attacks and improving their guerrilla tactics; their 
numbers are increasing at a tremendous rate. You ask how 
long we’ll be able to resist—that’s the wrong question. You 
should ask how long the Israelis will be able to resist. For we’ll 
never stop until we’ve returned to our home and destroyed 
Israel. The unity of the Arab world will make this possible. 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, you always invoke the unity of the Arab world. 
But you know very well that not all the Arab states are ready to 
go to war for Palestine and that, for those already at war, a 
peaceful agreement is possible, and can even be expected. 
Even Nasser said so. If such an agreement should take place, 
as Russia too expects, what will you do? 

y.a.: We won’t accept it. Never! We will continue to make war on 
Israel by ourselves until we get Palestine back. The end of 

Yasir Arafat 


Israel is the goal of our struggle, and it allows for neither 
compromise nor mediation. The issues of this struggle, 
whether our friends like it or not, will always remain fixed by 
the principles that we enumerated in 1965 with the creation of 
A1 Fatah. First: revolutionary violence is the only system for 
liberating the land of our fathers; second: the purpose of this 
violence is to liquidate Zionism in all its political, economic, 
and military forms, and to drive it out of Palestine forever; 
third: our revolutionary action must be independent of any 
control by party or state; fourth: this action will be of long du¬ 
ration. We know the intentions of certain Arab leaders: to 
resolve the conflict with a peaceful agreement. When this 
happens, we will oppose it. 

O.F.: Conclusion: you don’t at all want the peace that everyone is 
hoping for. 

y.a.: No! We don’t want peace. We want war, victory. Peace for us 
means the destruction of Israel and nothing else. What you 
call peace is peace for Israel and the imperialists. For us it is 
injustice and shame. We will fight until victory. Decades if 
necessary, generations. 

O.F.: Let’s be practical, Abu Ammar. Almost all the fedayeen bases 
are in Jordan, others are in Lebanon. Lebanon has little wish 
to fight a war, and Jordan would very much like to get out of 
it. Let’s suppose that these two countries, having decided on a 
peaceful agreement, decide to prevent your attacks on Israel. 
In other words, they prevent the guerrillas from being guer¬ 
rillas. It’s already happened and will happen again. In the face 
of this, what do you do? Do you also declare war on Jordan 
and Lebanon? 

Y.A.: We can’t fight on the basis of “ifs.” It’s the right of any Arab 
state to decide what it wants, including a peaceful agreement 
with Israel; it’s our right to want to return home without com¬ 
promise. Among the Arab states, some are unconditionally 
with us. Others not. But the risk of remaining alone in fight¬ 
ing Israel is a risk that we’ve foreseen. It’s enough to think of 
the insults they hurled at us in the beginning; we have been so 
maltreated that by now we don’t pay any attention to maltreat¬ 
ment. Our very formation, I mean, is a miracle. The candle 



that was lighted in 1965 burned in the blackest darkness. But 
now we are many candles, and we illuminate the whole Arab 
nation. And beyond the Arab nation. 

O.F.: That's a very poetic and very diplomatic answer, but it’s not 
the answer to what I asked you, Abu Ammar. I asked you: If 
Jordan really doesn't want you any more, do you declare war 
on Jordan? 

Y.A.: I'm a soldier and a military leader. As such I must keep my 
secrets—1 won't be the one to reveal our future battlefields to 
you. If I did, A1 Fatah would court-martial me. So draw your 
own conclusions from what I said before. I told you we'll con¬ 
tinue our march for the liberation of Palestine to the end, 
whether the countries in which we find ourselves like it or not. 
Even now we are in Palestine. 

O.F.: We're in Jordan, Abu Ammar. And I ask you: But what does 
Palestine mean? Even Palestine’s national identity has been 
lost with time, and its geographical borders have also been 
lost. The Turks were here, before the British Mandate and 
Israel. So what are the geographical borders of Palestine? 

Y.A.: We don't bring up the question of borders. We don’t speak of 
borders in our constitution because those who set up borders 
were the Western colonialists who invaded us after the Turks. 
From an Arab point of view, one doesn't speak of borders; Pal¬ 
estine is a small dot in the great Arabic ocean. And our nation 
is the Arab one, it is a nation extending from the Atlantic to 
the Red Sea and beyond. What we want, ever since the catas¬ 
trophe exploded in 1947, is to free our land and reconstruct 
the democratic Palestinian state. 

O.F.: But when you talk of a state, you have to say too within what 
geographical limits this state is formed or will be formed! Abu 
Ammar, I ask you again: what are the geographical borders of 

Y.A.: As an indication, we may decide that the borders of Palestine 
are the ones established at the time of the British Mandate. If 
we take the Anglo-French agreement of 1918, Palestine means 
the territory that runs from Naqurah in the north to Aqaba in 
the south, and then from the Mediterranean coast that in¬ 
cludes the Gaza Strip to the Jordan River and the Negev 

Yasir Arafat 


O.F.: I see. But this also includes a good piece of land that today is 
part of Jordan, I mean the whole region west of the Jordan. 

Y.A.: Yes. But I repeat that borders have no importance. Arab unity 
is important, that’s all. 

O.F.: Borders have importance if they touch or overlap the territory 
of a country that already exists, like Jordan. 

Y.A.: What you call Cisjordania is Palestine. 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, how is it possible to talk of Arab unity if from 
now on such problems come up with certain Arab countries? 
Not only that, but even you Palestinians are not in agreement. 
Inhere is even a great division between you of Al Fatah and the 
other movements. For example, with the Popular Front. 

y.a.: Ever>’ revolution has its private problems. In the Algerian rev¬ 
olution there was also more than one movement, and for all I 
know, even in Europe during the resistance to the Nazis. In 
Vietnam itself there exist several movements; the Vietcong are 
simply the overwhelming majority, like we of Al Fatah. But we 
of Al Fatah include ninety-seven percent of the fighters and 
are the ones who conduct the struggle inside the occupied ter¬ 
ritory. It was no accident that Moshe Dayan, when he decided 
to destroy the village of El Heul and mined 218 houses as a 
punitive measure, said, “We must make it clear who controls 
this village, we or Al Fatah.” He mentioned Al Fatah, not the 
Popular Front. The Popular Front ... In February 1969 the 
Popular Front split into five parts, and four of them have al¬ 
ready joined Al Fatah. Therefore we’re slowly being united. 
And if George Habash, the leader of the Popular Front, is not 
with us today, he soon will be. We’ve already asked him to 
join us; there’s basically no difference in objectives between us 
and the Popular Front. 

O.F.: The Popular Front is communist. You say that you’re not set 
up that way. 

y.a.: There are fighters among us representing all ideas; you must 
have met them. Therefore among us there is also room for the 
Popular Front. Only certain methods of struggle distinguish us 
from the Popular Front. In fact we of Al Fatah have never 
hijacked an airplane, and we have never planted bombs or 
caused shooting in other countries. We prefer to conduct a 



purely military struggle. That doesn’t mean, however, that we 
too don’t have recourse to sabotage—inside the Palestine that 
you call Israel. For instance, it’s almost always we who set off 
bombs in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in Eilat. 

O.F.: That involves civilians, however. It’s not a purely military 

Y.A.: It is! Because, civilians or military, they’re all equally guilty of 
wanting to destroy our people. Sixteen thousand Palestinians 
have been arrested for helping our commandos, eight thou¬ 
sand houses of Palestinians have been destroyed, without 
counting the tortures that our brothers undergo in their 
prisons, and napalm bombings of the unarmed population. 
We carry out certain operations, called sabotage, to show 
them that we’re capable of keeping them in check by the same 
methods. This inevitably hits civilians, but civilians are the 
first accomplices of the gang that rules Israel. Because if the 
civilians don’t approve of the methods of the gang in power, 
they have only to show it. We know very well that many don’t 
approve. Those, for example, who lived in Palestine before the 
Jewish immigration, and even some of those who immigrated 
with the precise intention of robbing us of our land. Because 
they came here innocently, with the hope of forgetting their 
ancient sufferings. They had been promised Paradise, here on 
earth, and they came to take over Paradise. Too late they dis¬ 
covered that instead it was hell. Do you know how many of 
them now r want to escape from Israel? You should see the emi¬ 
gration applications that pile up at the Canadian embassy in 
Tel Aviv, or the United States embassy. Thousands. 

O.F. : Abu Ammar, you never answer me directly. But this time you 
must do so. What do you think of Moshe Dayan? 

Y.A.: That’s a very embarrassing question. How can I answer? Let’s 
say this: I hope that one day he’ll be tried as a war criminal, 
whether he’s really a brilliant leader or whether the title of 
brilliant leader is something he’s bestowed on himself. 

O.F.: Abu Ammur, I seem to have read somewhere that the Israelis 
respect you more than you respect them. Question: Are you 
capable of respecting your enemies? 

y.a.: As fighters, and even as strategists . . . sometimes yes. One 
must admit that some of their war tactics are intelligent and 

Yasir Arafat 


can be respected. But as persons, no, because they always 
behave like barbarians; there’s never a drop of humanity' in 
them. People often talk of their victories; I have my own ideas 
about their victory of 1967 and the one in 1956. The one in 
1956 shouldn’t even be called a victory; that year they only 
queued up after the British and French aggressors. And they 
w r on with the help of the Americans. As for their 1967 victory, 
they owe it to the help of the Americans. Money comes in lav¬ 
ish and uncontrolled donations from the Americans to Israel. 
And besides money, they also get lavish shipments of the most 
powerful weapons, the most advanced technology. The best 
the Israelis possess comes from outside—this story of the 
wonders that they have achieved in our country ought to be 
re-examined with a greater sense of reality. We know very well 
what the wealth of Palestine is and is not: you don’t get more 
than just so much out of our land; you don’t create gardens 
out of the desert. Therefore the major part of what they possess 
comes from outside. And from the technology with which the 
imperialists supply them. 

o.f. : Let’s be honest, Abu Ammar. They’ve put and are putting 
technology to good use. And as soldiers, they come off well. 

y.a.: They have never won by their positive aspects; they’ve always 
won through the negative aspects of the Arabs. 

O.F. : That too is part of the game of w'ar, Abu Ammar. Besides, 
they’ve also won because they’re brave soldiers. 

y.a.: No! No! No! No, they’re not! In hand-to-hand combat, face 
to face, they’re not even soldiers. They’re too afraid of dying, 
they show no courage. That’s what happened in the battle of 
Karameh and that’s what happened the other day in the battle 
of El Safir. Crossing the lines, they came down on Wadi Fifa 
with forty tanks, on Wadi Abata with ten tanks, on Khirbet el 
Disseh with ten tanks and twenty jeeps with 106-caliber ma¬ 
chine guns. They preceded the advance with a heavy artillery 
bombardment and after ten hours sent in their planes, which 
bombed the whole area indiscriminately, and then helicopters 
to fire missiles against our positions. 

Their objective was to reach the valley of El Nmeiri. The) 
never reached it; after a twenty-five-hour battle, we drove 
them back across the lines. Do you know why? Because we 



used more courage than they did. We surrounded them, we 
attacked them in the rear with our rifles, with our bazookas— 
face to face, without fear of dying. It’s always the same story 
with the Israelis. They're good at attacking with planes because 
they know we have no planes, with tanks because they know 
we have no tanks, but when they run into face-to-face resis¬ 
tance, they don't risk any more. They run away. And what 
good is a soldier who takes no risks, who runs away? 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, what do you say of the operations carried out by 
their commandos? For example, when their commandos go to 
Egypt to dismantle a radar station and carry it away? You need 
a little courage for something like that. 

y.a.: No, you don’t. Because they always look for very weak, very 
easy objectives. Those are their tactics, which, I repeat, are 
always intelligent but never courageous in that they consist in 
employing enormous forces in an undertaking of whose suc¬ 
cess they're a hundred percent sure. They never move unless 
they're certain that everything will go well, and if you take 
them by surprise, they never fully commit themselves. Every 
time they've attacked the fedayeen in strength, the Israelis 
have been defeated. Their commandos don’t get by us. 

O.F.: Maybe not by you, but they do get by the Egyptians. 

y.a. : What they're doing in Egypt is not a military action, it's a psy¬ 
chological war. Egypt is still their strongest enemy, and so 
they're trying to demoralize it and undermine it through a psy¬ 
chological war incited by the Zionist press with the help of the 
international press. Their game consists in propagandizing an 
action by exaggerating it. Everybody falls for it because they 
possess a powerful press agency. We have no press agency, no¬ 
body knows what our commandos are doing, our victories go 
unnoticed because we have no wire service to transmit the 
news to newspapers that anyway wouldn't publish it. So no 
one knows, for example, that on the same day that the Israelis 
were stealing the radar station from the Egyptians, we entered 
an Israeli base and carried off five large rockets. 

O.F.: I wasn't talking about you, I was talking about the Egyptians. 

Y.A.: There's no difference between Palestinians and Egyptians. 
Both are part of the Arab nation. 

O.F.: That's a very generous remark on your part, Abu Ammar. 

Yasir Arafat 


Especially considering that your family was actually expro¬ 
priated by the Egyptians. 

y.a.: My family was expropriated by Farouk, not by Nasser. I know 
the Egyptians well because I went to the university in Egypt, 
and I fought with the Egyptian army in 1951, 1952, and 1956. 
They're brave soldiers and my brothers. 

O.F.: Let's get back to the Israelis, Abu Ammar. You say that with 
you they always suffer huge losses. How many Israelis do you 
think you've killed up to this date? 

y.a. : I can't give you an exact figure, but the Israelis have confessed 
to having lost, in the war against the fedayeen, a percentage of 
men that is higher than that of the Americans in Vietnam—in 
proportion, of course, to the population of the two countries. 
And it's indicative that, after the 1967 war, their traffic deaths 
increased ten times. In short, after a battle or a skirmish with 
us, it comes out that a lot of Israelis have died in automobile 
accidents. This observation has been made by the Israeli news¬ 
papers themselves, because we know that the Israeli generals 
never admit to losing men at the front. But I can tell you that, 
going by the American statistics, in the battle of Karameh they 
lost 1247 men between dead and wounded. 

O.F.: And do you pay an equally heavy price? 

y.a.: Losses to us don't count, we don't care if we die. Anyway, 
from 1965 to today, we have had slightly over nine hundred 
dead. But you must also consider the six thousand civilians 
dead in air raids and our brothers who die in prison under tor¬ 

O.F.: Nine hundred dead can be many or few, depending on the 
number of combatants. How many fedayeen are there al¬ 

y.a.: To tell you that figure, I would have to ask permission from 
the Military Council, and I don't think they would give it to 
me. But 1 can tell you that at Karameh we were only 392 
against 15,000 Israelis. 

O.F.: Fifteen thousand? Abu Ammar, maybe you mean 1500. 

y.a. : No! No! No! I said 1 5,000, 15,000! Including, of course, the 
soldiers employed with the heavy artillery, the tanks, the 
planes, the helicopters, and the parachutists. As troops alone, 
they had four companies and two brigades. What we say is 



never believed by you Westerners, you listen to them and 
that’s all, you believe them and that’s all, you report what they 
say and that’s all! 

O.F.: Abu Ammar, you’re an unfair man. I am here and I’m listen¬ 
ing to you. And after this interview I’ll report word for word 
what you’ve told me. 

y.a.: You Europeans are always for them. Maybe some of you are 
beginning to understand us—it’s in the air, one can sense it. 
But essentially you’re still for them. 

O.F.: This is your war, Abu Ammar, not ours. And in this war of 
yours we are only spectators. But even as spectators you can’t 
ask us to be against the Jews and you shouldn’t be surprised if 
in Europe the Jews are often loved. We’ve seen them perse¬ 
cuted, we’ve persecuted them. We don’t want it to happen 

y.a.: Sure, you have to pay your debts to them. And you want to 
pay them with our blood, with our land, rather than with your 
blood, your land. You go on ignoring the fact that we have 
nothing against the Jews, we have it against the Israelis. The 
Jews will be welcome in the democratic Palestinian state. 
We’ll offer them the choice of staying in Palestine when the 
moment arrives. 

O.F.: But, Abu Ammar, the Israelis are Jews. Not all Jews can iden¬ 
tify themselves with Israel, but Israel can’t help identifying it¬ 
self with the Jews. And you can’t ask the Jews of Israel to go 
wandering around the world once more and thereby end up in 
extermination camps. That’s unreasonable. 

Y.A.: So you want to send us wandering around the world. 

O.F.: No. We don’t want to send anybody. You least of all. 

Y.A.: But wandering around is what we’re doing now. And if you’re 
so anxious to give a homeland to the Jews, give them yours— 
you have a lot of land in Europe, in America. Don’t presume 
to give them ours. We’ve lived on this land for centuries and 
centuries; we won’t give it up to pay your debts. You’re com¬ 
mitting an error even from a human point of view. How is it 
possible that the Europeans don’t recognize it even while 
being such civilized people, so advanced, and perhaps more 
advanced than on any other continent? And yet you too have 
fought wars of liberation, just think of your Risorgimento. 

Yasir Arafat 


Therefore your error is on purpose. You can't claim ignorance 
about Palestine because you know Palestine well. You sent us 
your Crusades, and it’s a country right under your nose. It’s 
not Amazonia. I believe that someday your conscience will 
awaken. But till that day it’s better that we don't see each 

O.F.: Is that the reason, Abu Ammar, that you always wear dark 

y.a.: No. I wear them so as not to let people know whether I’m 
asleep or awake. But, between ourselves, I’m always awake 
behind my glasses. I sleep only when I take them off, and I 
sleep very' little. I had said, no personal questions. 

O.F.: Only one, Abu Ammar. You aren’t married, and there are 
said to be no women in your life. Do you want to be like Ho 
Chi Minh, or is the idea of living with a woman at your side 
repugnant to you? 

y.a.: Ho Chi Minh. . . . No, let’s say that I've never found the 
right woman. And now there’s no more time. I’ve married a 
woman called Palestine. 

Amman , March 1972 


Hussein of Jordan 

The king was the picture of bitterness, of wounded pride devoid of 
all illusions. You couldn't look at him without feeling a need to do 
something for him, perhaps whisper to him, “Give up everything, 
Majesty. Go away, save yourself. If you stay here, they'll kill you. If 
they kill you, no one will pardon you. It's not worth it, Majesty; 
you’ve taken too many risks already. You're only in your thirties.” 
Or rather than whisper it to him, you would have shouted it at him, 
and it wasn't the fear of insulting him that restrained you. It was 
the knowledge that he knew. It was written on that face whose mus¬ 
tache was already sprinkled with gray, whose lines already covered 
the memory of a remote youth. Have you ever seen a sadder face 
than the face of Hussein? His lips are strips of disheartenment; he 
looks as though he’s about to cry even when he smiles or laughs. 
Besides I don't think that he’s able to laugh—except perhaps at rare 
moments when he plays with his children. 

Wherever and however you find him, he has the air of a man to 
whom you can’t say that life is a gift of God. He lives it, yes, and 
certainly not as an ascetic or saint. He likes women, motorcycles, 
racing cars, seaside vacations, and violent emotions. He defends it, 
yes, and certainly not as a weakling; for this reason he has learned 
to shoot and his aim is deadly. But with detachment, with anger I 
would say, and the suspicion that each day may be his last. 

The king was seated in an armchair in his office in the royal pal- 


Hussein of Jordan 


ace, wearing a greenish, not very elegant suit, with a shirt that in¬ 
stead suited him well, and a necktie chosen with taste. The arm¬ 
chair was huge and this made him look smaller than his actual 
size—about five feet three inches. In fact, when he leaned back, 
his feet hardly touched the carpet. But he leaned back all the same, 
resting his elbows on the arms of the chair and clasping his hands 
over his stomach, almost as though to show you that his short stat¬ 
ure gave him no complexes, and indeed he carried it with great dig¬ 
nity', aided by a well-developed body. Wide shoulders, bulging 
biceps, solid thighs, and muscular calves—the body of a young bull 
ever in search of a brawl or a female to mount. 

The comparison came to you spontaneously if you forgot his 
face; he had the desperate strength of a young bull that never gives 
up. You rope him and he gets away, then he comes charging back. 
You catch him again, shut him up in a cage, and he shakes it until 
you let him out into the arena. Where he fights. The more you 
prod him, the more you torment him, the more you wound him, 
the more he fights. Albeit in an uncertain, confused, mistaken way: 
a thrust of the horns here, of the head there, a stamp of the hoof. 
The politics of Hussein. And one can only wonder if his bitterness 
and sadness are not chiefly born of this: of the realization of being 
only a young bull flung into a corrida from which he can only 
emerge dead. Picadors, banderilleros, toreros, friends, enemies, 
Israelis, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, all are united against him 
in what is basically a very simple conspiracy. In his case, power is 
anything but comfortable. Just think of the attempts that have been 
made on his life ever since his youth. 

To say Hussein is to say assassination attempts. To say conspira¬ 
cies, pistol shots, bombs, poison. He himself has written that the 
plots against him have been so numerous, varied, and continous 
that he sometimes feels like the hero of a detective story. The first 
time, as we know, was when he was sixteen and before his eyes 
they killed his grandfather, King Abdullah. It was on the steps of 
the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, and the revolver shots were not 
only fired at Abdullah—one also hit him, aimed at the heart. He 
was saved by a heavy medal that his grandfather had pinned on his 
uniform; the bullet smashed against it. The episode of the Syrian 
MiGs took place in 1958. He was flying his plane toward Europe 
when two of them attacked him, and he only escaped thanks to his 

1 4 2 


skill as a pilot, going into a dive and then rising again, zigzagging, 
and running the risk of crashing in the mountains and hills. 

In 1960 they tried to do him in by a more insidious method. He 
had developed sinus trouble and the doctor was treating him with 
nose drops. One day Hussein opened a new bottle and a drop fell 
on the washbasin, the washbasin began to sizzle, and a hole soon 
appeared in place of the drop. Someone had substituted sulphuric 
acid for the medicine. And what to say of the servant who tried to 
stab him in his sleep? Or of the cook who put poison in his food? It 
was discovered because one of his orderlies tested the food on the 
palace cats and the cats died. And the bomb placed in the office of 
his prime minister, Hazza Majali, on the day when Hussein was to 
pay him a visit? Hussein did not die because the bomb exploded in 
advance, killing only the prime minister and eight other persons. 
And the four bursts of machine-gun fire against what looked like 
his automobile and instead was the automobile of his uncle? And 
the military revolt organized by the supreme commander of his 
army, Abu Nuwar? The troops had been quartered at Zerqa; Hus¬ 
sein jumped in a jeep and overtook them. Descending from the 
jeep, he saw a revolver pointed at him; this time he was saved 
because he fired more quickly than the other man. He always goes 
around with a Colt .38 stuck in his belt; when he goes to bed he 
puts it under his pillow. 

The most extraordinary fact about Hussein is that the more his 
life is in danger, the more he exposes himself. The day I arrived in 
Amman, I had noticed on the runway a sturdy young man with a 
mustache who very much resembled Hussein. He had helped a 
pleasant lady and two children to board an airliner on its way to 
London. Then he had gone to a Mercedes parked near the gate, 
taken the wheel, and driven off by himself, taking the road that 
leads into the city. I had exclaimed, ‘‘That looks like Hussein!” 
And someone had answered, “Yes, it was Hussein. He always goes 
without an escort, unguarded.” Furthermore, it’s even absurd to in¬ 
sist that Hussein is courageous. He is so in a rash, irritating way. In 
1967, when the Israelis were advancing on Jordan, he was the only 
head of state to go to the front. Alone, in his jeep. His soldiers fled, 
in tatters, and he went forward, under the whistle of bombs and 
mortar shells. When the Israelis crossed the frontier at El Sifa and 
attacked with fifty tanks, he rushed off there and began following 

Hussein of Jordan 

M 3 

the battle. Certain things were done by the condottieri of the past; 
today not even the generals participate in combat. 

So you can only conclude that he likes physical danger. And I 
emphasize the word physical—which is his great limitation. As in 
bulls. The very sports he practices represent a physical danger and 
nothing else. He enjoys parachuting, shutting off the engines of his 
helicopter and letting it fall, to resume control only at the last 
moment, racing in his Porsche up to 180 miles an hour, doing 
reckless stunts with his Hawker Hunter jet. There was a time when 
he also liked to disguise himself as a taxi driver and look for passen¬ 
gers at night in the streets of Amman, so as to ask them what they 
thought of the new king named Hussein. 

The king did not stand out in any particular gesture I have men¬ 
tioned so far. On the contrary, his attitude was quiet, cordial, his 
smile carefree. It had been so from the moment he had thrown 
open the door and shaken my hand, asking if things were going all 
right for me in Jordan and if anyone had given me trouble. If any¬ 
thing happened, I was to let him know immediately. It was obvious 
to whom he was alluding. His tone was that of the master of the 
house who wants to remind you that the master of the house is 
himself and not the fedayeen you've just met. Having made this 
point, the king had offered me a Jordanian cigarette and had leaned 
forward to light it, enjoying the remark by which I had stressed my 
ignorance of protocol. “They told me to address you as Tour Maj¬ 
esty,’ and for the second time I forget . . . Majesty.” “Never 
mind,” he had answered. “Nowadays a king is nothing but an em¬ 
ployee of the state; it doesn’t seem to me appropriate to stand on 
ceremony. I never do it.” 

This is quite true when you remember that he often received 
journalists in his shirt sleeves, that he lived in a small villa of a few 
rooms where the servants were few, and that his wife Muna did the 
cooking. At that time his wife was Muna, the nice British former 
stenographer wTose name before marrying him was Tony Gar¬ 
diner. At the time, and even while unfaithful to her in countless af¬ 
fairs, Hussein loved her. What accounted for this love, it seems, 
was really the simplicity of a woman who did not feel diminished 
by cooking for him and who refused the title of queen, and only 
reluctantly accepted that of princess. So no one suspected that he 
would repudiate her, two years later, for a younger and more beau- 



tiful wife. His family life had been like that of any little bourgeois 
opposed to divorce. 

I asked the king if 1 might begin the interview. He nodded and at 
the same moment his carefree attitude disappeared. His voice, 
which before had sounded masculine, authoritarian, sank and gave 
out in a polite murmur: “Please, go ahead.” This led me to suspect 
something the possibility of which I hadn't even considered: that he 
was timid. He is. Quite in the same way as fighting bulls when they 
discover you're not hurting them and, overtaken by embarrassment, 
retreat, bowing their necks. But still I was surprised. You're not 
surprised, however, by the showman’s instinct with which he antic¬ 
ipates your questions, the serpentine skill with which he parries 
them. In fact, if his education is Western (we must not forget that 
Hussein studied in a Swiss school and was molded by Glubb Pasha, 
Sir John Bagot Glubb, the Englishman who set up his army), his 
blood is Arab a thousand percent, laden with astuteness, with de¬ 

At my first question, his jaws closed, his arms jerked in an im¬ 
perceptible shudder, and this reaction was to be repeated several 
times in the course of our conversation. Or rather, every time I 
may have asked him something uncomfortable. He does not enjoy 
being interviewed, and for this reason my interview was not a long 
one. He had promised me forty minutes. When forty-five were 
over, he looked at his watch and, scarcely concealing his relief, 
murmured, “I'm sorry, we must stop. I have another appoint¬ 
ment.” Nor was there any way to keep him longer. We parted at 
the door with the promise to complete the interview a few days 
later. Instead, I didn’t see him again. 

Perhaps because he did not want to resume a conversation that 
he knew had not been sincere? Or because actually what he had 
told me about the Palestinians was one big lie? That day, sitting in 
that engulfing armchair, he had shown himself so solid with them, 
so tolerant, so desirous of peace. He had chewed the word peace 
with the same wholeheartedness with which one masticates chew¬ 
ing gum. Five months later, instead, he was to unleash his 
Bedouins against the fedayeen and decimate them in a frightful 
bloodbath, the massacre that today goes under the name of Black 
September. The fedayeen defended themselves; the battle raged for 

Hussein of Jordan 


several days. But in vain. They had been taken too much by sur¬ 
prise, and could not hold out against an entire army. Even in the 
refugee camps there were thousands of dead. Those who saw the 
dead state that Hussein’s troops were merciless. Some had had their 
genitals, legs, arms cut off—after being tied up. Others had been 
decapitated. And among the victims there were old women and 
children. ... An ugly, brutal story. 

Indeed the whole civilized world reacted with disgust and con¬ 
demned Hussein. And many said that by such a gesture he had 
pushed the situation to the extreme, that from now on it would be 
much worse. Nor were they wrong, for the survivors took refuge in 
Lebanon and there regained strength by redoubling their terrorism. 
What we now have to suffer in Europe, with such episodes as 
Munich and Fiumicino, with carnage that is not our business, with 
blackmail and . . . 

Should I despise Hussein because he lied to me? I don’t know; I 
wouldn’t say so. Anyone who is at the head of a country so tor¬ 
mented as his certainly cannot reveal his strategy to the enemy, 
much less confide in a journalist. Since his way of freeing himself 
from the fedayeen was based on a sudden about-face and an unan¬ 
ticipated massacre, he had no other choice but to lie to me. But he 
lied too well, and that lie depicts a man who is tragic, yes, but also 
treacherous. Tragic by destiny, treacherous by necessity. As I could 
convince myself when I met him again almost three years later. 

I met him again in November of 1974, one month after the Arab 
Summit in Rabat. The summit where, unanimously, the Arab 
leaders had taken from him Cisjordania and his right to negotiate 
on the Palestinians’ behalf. This time Hussein looked destroyed, 
a living portrait of defeat and humiliation. And indeed, the humili¬ 
ation had been burning, as it had been the fruit of a vengeance 
wanted and organized by Arafat. Seen under such circumstances, 
Hussein aroused sympathy, almost a need to absolve him and 
choose his side of the barricade. But let us not forget the following 
truth: Those who hold power and shape the destiny of others should 
never be judged in a moment of misfortune or defeat. If seen as a 
corpse hung by the feet, even Mussolini could arouse some pity. 
Those who hold power and shape the destiny of others must be judged 
when they are alive. So, in my opinion, the real portrait of Hussein 
remains the one that I painted in my first, and by now old, interview. 



It is that interview that I prefer to offer for the verdict of today and of 

ORIANA fallaci: Majesty, but who is in command in Jordan? At the 
check points people are stopped by the fedayeen, at the borders 
the fedayeen attack, in the villages it’s the fedayeen who de¬ 
cide. It’s no longer paradoxical to say they’ve set up a state 
within your state. 

hussein OF JORDAN: Many things are not going well, I know. Ex¬ 
cesses, a taking of positions that I can’t allow. Sometimes this 
provokes friction. IVe talked at length with their leaders. I 
cited the agreements they bound themselves to observe and 
that often they haven’t observed—Jordan is a sovereign state. 
And Jordan is the country that pays for the Israeli reprisals. 
Their leaders have reacted to my words like reasonable people 
and I think that certain things will change. But we’re far from 
saying that everything is going as I’d like. And still . . . when 
I’m asked why I don’t stop the fedayeen, why I don’t throw the 
fedayeen out ... I answer: I won’t stop them, I won’t throw 
them out. Not because I can’t but because I don’t want to. It’s 
not true that I’m a prisoner of the fedayeen; that’s what Israeli 
propaganda says. It’s not true that I can’t control them. Be¬ 
cause they have every right to fight, to resist. They’ve suffered 
for twenty years, and the Israelis are occupying their land. 
That land is also Jordanian territory—who should help them if 
not Jordan? Don’t forget that a good part of my population is 
Palestinian, don’t forget that the tragedy of the refugees is 
more evident here than elsewhere. I have to be with them. 

O.F. : But they aren’t with you, Majesty. I haven’t found much 
friendship toward you among the fedayeen. And I’ve often 
found, so to speak, hostility. 

h.: When men suffer oppression and have anger in their hearts, 
their actions have uncontrolled consequences. This grieves me 
but doesn’t discourage me. We will reach an agreement—their 
leaders aren’t fools and I’m an optimist. Certainly it’s difficult, 
at times painful. But in life one must make choices and then 
keep faith with them. I’ve chosen to keep the fedayeen and I 
keep faith with my choice. Even if my position may seem 

Hussein of Jordan 147 

quixotic or naive . . . one day well have to arrive at a peace¬ 
ful solution. 

O.F.: Majesty, do you really believe in a peaceful solution? 

h.: Yes, 1 do. I’ve always accepted the resolution offered by the UN 
Security Council; I’ve always fought for it and will go on fight¬ 
ing for it. My position is clear: I say and repeat that all the 
Israelis have to do is to withdraw from the territories occupied 
in 1967. There’s no other way to achieve peace. But the 
Israelis don’t want to withdraw; they don’t want peace. 

O.F.: By accepting the Security' Council resolution, you grant Israel 
the right to exist. In short, you don’t deny that Israel is an his¬ 
torical reality that cannot be eradicated. 

h.: No, I don’t deny it. To accept that resolution automatically 
includes the recognition of Israel. And that means I believe in 
the possibility of living in peace with Israel. 

O.F.: But this is exactly the opposite of what the fedayeen want, 
Majesty! The fedayeen want to destroy Israel; they don’t recog¬ 
nize Israel’s right to exist. Thv“ fedayeen consider as an enemy, 
or rather a traitor, anyone who accepts the resolution offered 
by the UN Security Council. They reject every peaceful com¬ 
promise, they don’t exclude war, they’re calling for war. Maj¬ 
esty, how can you reconcile your position with that of the 

h.: In appearance they can’t be reconciled, but I’m sure that sooner 
or later the fedayeen will end by being persuaded that it’s nec¬ 
essary to reach a peaceful compromise. Because other Arab 
states as well will convince them of this necessity. And then, 
when you stop to think of it, there’s no great difference be¬ 
tween my search for peace and their desire for war. In the 
West that may seem a paradox, but for us who have a more 
elastic mentality, there’s no paradox. Both the fedayeen and 
myself want to see our rights recognized. And I would never 
accept a peace that didn’t recognize our rights, their rights. I 
tell you if Israel were to accept the resolution of the Security 
Council, the commando attacks would cease—the com¬ 
mandos would no longer have any reason to exist. It’s the 
stubbornness of the Israelis that brings about the existence of 
the commandos, not vice versa. 

o.f.: Allow me to disagree, Majesty. The fedayeen wouldn’t at all 



be satisfied with Israel's withdrawal from the occupied terri¬ 
tories. If the Israelis were to withdraw their troops, the 
fedayeen would pursue their attacks still farther. That's an¬ 
other reason why the Israelis don’t withdraw. 

H.: I must believe, I want to believe that that’s not so. I must 
believe in peace, someone must believe . . . 

O.F.: Majesty, in speaking of the Palestinian state they want to set 
up, the leaders of the fedayeen always repeat that it will in¬ 
clude the territory on the left bank of the Jordan, in short the 
West Bank. But doesn’t this territory belong to the kingdom of 

H.: Yes, but it’s almost completely inhabited by Palestinians—it’s 
Palestine. So it’s normal for the Palestinians to want to regain 
possession sooner or later. And, to keep faith with the choices 
I’ve made, it’s likewise normal that I don’t oppose it. When 
the time comes, I’ll ask the Palestinians of the West Bank to 
decide whether they want to remain with Jordan or become 
independent. I’ll say to them: Decide your future for your¬ 
selves. Then I’ll accept what they’ve decided. 

O.F.: But then Jordan . . . what will be left of it? 

h.: There’ll be left . . . what’s left. I know very well that the West 
Bank constitutes the most fertile territory in Jordan. By oc¬ 
cupying it, the Israelis have caused us immense economic 
harm. But once again there arises the necessity for a choice: 
either interests or conscience. When a king, anyway a head of 
state, says that he recognizes the right of self-determination of 
a people, he must carry it through to the end. It’s very easy to 
be liberal in words, very difficult to be so in deeds. And also 
when this war is over, Jordan will turn out to be the country 
that has paid most cruelly and most bitterly of all. 

O.F.: That part of Jordan you’re ready to give up includes Jerusa¬ 
lem, Majesty. 

H.: Yes . . . but Jerusalem should never be anyone’s private prop¬ 
erty. Jerusalem is as sacred to the Muslims as it is to the Chris¬ 
tians and Jews—on this we Arabs are all in agreement. The 
immediate problem, therefore, is for the Israelis to realize it as 
well and recognize our rights over the Arab part of Jerusalem. 
And not insist on annexing it to Israel. You emphasize the fu¬ 
ture conflicts in the Arab world and forget that it’s the Israelis 
who want to crush us by their expansionism. 

Hussein of Jordan 


O.F. : Majesty, these conflicts don’t belong to the future, they 
belong to the present. Arab unity doesn’t exist—we saw that in 

H.: The Rabat conference wasn’t useful, but I’ve always known that 
Arab unity wouldn’t be achieved at the conference table by 
gathering the heads of the various Arab states in one room. It 
can be reached only through separate contacts between state 
and state—slowly, patiently. Syria and ourselves, Egypt and 
ourselves . . . I’ve been to Egypt several times, and I’ll go 
back again because each meeting is more fruitful than you 
imagine. Corners get smoothed away, details are clari¬ 
fied . . . 

O.F. : Even with Egypt, with Nasser? And speaking of Nasser, its 
always you who went to him, Majesty. It’s never Nasser who 
comes to you. Is one permitted to draw conclusions? 

H.: Those who have less fear of traveling are the ones who travel. 
Some people are bothered by airplanes because they cling too 
much to life. Let’s put it this way: airplanes don’t bother me; I 
have no fear of traveling in search of friends. 

O.F.: Not even when those friends try to make you crash, as hap¬ 
pened with those Syrian MiGs? Am I wrong, Majesty, or is it 
always your Arab friends like Nasser who want to kill you? 

h.: I don’t want to talk about that. . . . There’s no need to talk 
about it. . . . The Arabs are my allies, my friends. . . . 

O.F. : I know, Majesty. But we Italians have a proverb that in your 
case should be reversed as follows: God protect me from my 
enemies, I’ll look after my friends. In fact, when you go to see 
your friends, you always carry a pistol. Are you sure that a pis¬ 
tol is enough to guarantee your safety? 

H.: Westerners arc always afraid I’ll be killed. The first thing they 
ask me is, but aren’t you afraid of being killed? No, I don’t 
even think about it. I swear it. I’ve looked death in the face so 
many times that by now I’m as accustomed to the risk as to 
day and night. Besides, if I let myself be obsessed by the idea 
of death, I d no longer go out of my house and wouldn’t even 
feel safe there. I’m an Arab, I believe in fate. God’s will be 
done, and what will be will be. 

O.F. : All those who enjoy taking physical risks speak of fatalism, 

H.: No, it’s not true that I enjoy risks—no intelligent person likes to 



gamble with his life. But for me risk has become the natural 
element in which to live—what water is to a fish. A fish 
doesn't even realize it’s living in water because it couldn’t live 
elsewhere. I like sports, it’s true, and sports always offer a 
margin of risk or else they’re not sports. But I don’t do them 
for that; I do them because I have to move, to take exercise. 
Someone once asked me if the gift I admire most in a man 
was courage. I hesitated before answering yes. Certainly I ad¬ 
mire courage; a man without courage isn’t a man. But physi¬ 
cal courage isn’t enough if it’s not accompanied by in¬ 
telligence, and what I most admire in a man is intelligence. 
Only with that do you resolve things, and with determination. 

O.F.: Not even with that, Majesty. And your case shows it. Majesty, 
you’ve just told me of some fine plans, but I’d like to reply 
with a realistic question. Don’t you ever get fed up and dream 
of something more practical, I mean telling it all to go to hell 
and retiring to live in peace? 

h.: Yes . . . I’m afraid so. There are days when a man who does 
my job really thinks of it. He wakes up in the morning and 
says enough. . . . Every morning is a dilemma—to keep 
going or not. And every morning I end up resolving the di¬ 
lemma by saying to myself: Keep going, you have to keep 
going. You see, I wasn’t born to do a king’s job. When I was a 
boy and the prospect of becoming king was still remote be¬ 
cause I knew that when my grandfather died, the kingdom 
would pass to my father, I thought of choosing a profession. 
And I hesitated between the law profession and that of being a 
pilot. The study of law is beautiful if you believe in the law as 
I do. And then law is a search for all the whys—I would have 
made an excellent lawyer, I know it. The dialectical play of 
just and unjust, of right and wrong. . . . Yes, still better than 
being a pilot. Though for me flying a plane is an overwhelm¬ 
ing joy: the open spaces, the technology. . . . When I fly my 
plane, I never let the copilot take the controls. And instead my 
grandfather died so soon and . . . my father got sick, and it 
was my turn to become king. So young. Hardly seventeen. 
Early, too early. If only you knew how tough it was for me. I 
knew nothing and 1 kept making mistakes. . . . For so many 
years I made mistakes. I’ve learned very late. 

Hussein of Jordan 


O.F.: And once you’d learned, did you like it, Majesty? Or rather, 
let’s put the question in the most brutal and honest terms: as of 
today, do you think it’s worth it, Majesty? 

H.: What a difficult, embarrassing question. I’ve already told you 
that I didn’t choose this job and that, if I could have, perhaps I 
wouldn’t have chosen it. Because, if being head of state is a 
term in prison, being a king is a life sentence. But I shouldn’t 
consider the problem of whether I like it or not, I should con¬ 
sider the problem of doing it even if I don’t like it. In any job 
you get days of weariness, of nausea—but if we give in to them, 
we’d be like those misfits who are always changing jobs and 
end by doing all of them badly. No, so long as my people 
want me, or so long as I’m alive among a people who want 
me, I’ll never give up the job of king. I’ve sworn it to myself 
before swearing it to others. And not only as a question of 
pride, believe me. Because I love this land of mine. And I 
think that to give it up and live on the Riviera would be an act 
of cowardice, of treason. So I stay. Whether it’s worth it or 
not, cost what it may. I’m ready to face anyone, anyone who 
tries to send me away. 

Amman , April 1972 


Indira Gandhi 

This incredible woman who governed almost half a billion people 
and won a war in the face of the opposition of the United States 
and China. You looked at her and thought no one would succeed 
in driving her from the throne she had democratically conquered, 
at that time. Some said she would go on being prime minister of 
India for twenty years, and since she was only in her fifties she 
might stay there for the rest of her life. When you came to think of 
it, she was the only true queen and one of the few remarkable 
rulers in the world, a thoroughbred horse, at that time. I liked her 
so, at that time. I used to choose her as an example to show how 
good women can be when they govern a country. I admired her. 
And I refused to listen to those who warned me, saying, “Maybe 
you shouldn’t trust her that much.” I judged them envious of her 
talent and her success. Then, suddenly, this changed. 

It was in the spring of 1975, when she gave up democracy and 
became a dictator. It was when she forgot what her father had done 
and what she had lasted for, freedom. All happened with the 
quickness of a blow, in a few days, a few hours. We know the story, 
as it is so recent. She had been tried and convicted, maybe 
wrongly, maybe excessively, for illicit behavior in the electoral 
campaign (some minor fault that all politicians commit in her 
country and in the world) and she had been put in the situation of 
having to consider resigning her power, like Nixon had done. Resig- 


Indira Gandhi 


nation was imperative. Yet she would not resign. She refused to do 
what even Nixon had done. And, with a coup to be compared to 
the coups of the most ruthless tyrants, she gave up being Prime 
Minister Indira to become Dictator Indira. Overnight she had all 
the opposition arrested, the constitution violated, and freedom as¬ 
sassinated. In the name of democracy, of course, and of law and of 
order. It always takes place that way. I said this in a report that I 
will not summarize; people know it. But it’s worth recalling that 
because of the coup, I rejected her and my admiration for her. I 
didn’t hide my regret and shame at having portrayed her in the past 
as a woman to love and respect. 

Jt is true that doing a portrait of her had been a disturbing task at 
that time too. Her personality eluded any attempt to fix it in any 
precise shape or color. It was too many things at once, and all in 
conflict among themselves. Many people didn’t like her. And they 
called her arrogant, cynical, ambitious, ruthless. They accused her 
of ideological inconsistency, of demagoguery, of playing a double 
game. Many, on the other hand, liked her, to the point of falling 
in love with her. And they called her strong, courageous, generous, 
brilliant. They extolled her good sense, her equilibrium, her hon¬ 
esty. Among those who didn’t like her, you often found men. 
Among those who did, you often found women. Indeed it’s hard 
to be a man and accept the remark that circulated in India: “She 
wears the trousers all right.” In other words, it was impossible to 
be a woman and not feel redeemed, vindicated, by her enormous 
success, which belied all the banalities used to justify patriarchy 
and male rule in any society. Being a woman, justifications of 
her wrongs came much easier. In fact, at that time, I liked to point 
out that to rule a country and especially a country like India, 
so quarrelsome, so complex, one must not be a saint. Whatever 
Henry Kissinger may say about power (“It’s not intelligence 
that’s important in a head of state. The quality that counts in a 
head of state is strength. Courage, shrewdness, and strength”), to 
rule a country like India one must be intelligent. She is truly not a 
saint, she knows in every sense how to drink from the cup of life, I 
used to say, on the other hand, she is intelligent. And, while ad¬ 
mitting that interviewing her was easier than understanding her, I 
gave judgments that even now I don’t withdraw. For instance, even 
now I must recognize that on personal matters, she is spontaneous. 



She hides nothing, she unveils herself—in a caressing, modulated, 
highly pleasant voice. Her face too is pleasant. She has beautiful 
hazel eyes, a little sad, and a strange, indulgent, enigmatic smile 
that awakens curiosity. She resembles no one, not even in her 
black curls that on the right side are lightened by an odd streak of 
gray hair, almost a flash of silver. I also must recognize that she 
bursts out with modern ideas. Note her answer to my question 
about religion. When one is the leader of the most religious people 
on earth, it takes guts to say that you don't believe in the gods but 
in man. 

Also, I cannot forget that she is not an ordinary woman with an 
ordinary destiny and an ordinary past. First of all, she is the daugh¬ 
ter of Jawaharlal Nehru; second, she is a disciple of Mohandas K. 
(Mahatma) Gandhi—the two legendary figures who dared to chal¬ 
lenge the British Empire and started its breakup. In their shadow 
she grew up, was educated and shaped. And if today Nehru is men¬ 
tioned as Indira's father, until yesterday Indira was known as 
Nehru’s daughter. If today the name of Gandhi creates confusion 
with Indira’s surname (she has it from her husband, who was not 
related to the Mahatma), until yesterday Indira owed part of her 
popularity to the fact of being called Gandhi. Hers is the case of a 
person born among exceptional people in exceptional times. The 
Nehru family had been immersed in politics for generations. A 
grandfather had been among the founders of the Congress Party, 
to which Indira belongs. Her parents were members of the ex¬ 
ecutive committee, and also her aunt—Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who 
was to be the only woman called to preside over the UN. As a 
child, Indira not only sat on the lap of the Mahatma, she sat on the 
laps of all the important men who were to create India. 

The struggle for independence took place before her eyes, her 
first school of life being the police who descended on them at night 
to make arrests. There is a story of her opening the door to friends 
and saying, “I'm sorry, there's no one at home. My father, mother, 
grandfather, grandmother, and aunt are all in prison.” Also for this 
reason she was sent to study in Switzerland at the age of eight. But 
at thirteen she came back and founded a corps of little guerrillas, 
the Monkey Brigade. Six thousand children who did not always re¬ 
strict themselves to carrying messages—sometimes they attacked the 
British barracks. Led by her. The letters that Nehru wrote her from 

Indira Gandhi 


prison are of this period. “Do you remember how fascinated you 
were when you first read the story of Jeanne d’Arc, and how your 
ambition was to be something like her? ... In India today we are 
making history, and you and I are fortunate to see this happening 
before our eyes and to take some part ourselves in this great 
drama.” Today the letters are collected in two volumes and used in 
the schools. 

She too was in prison—for thirteen months, but according to the 
sentence of the special tribunal, it should have been seven years. 
She was there with her husband. Returning to Europe to attend 
Somerville College at Oxford, she had joined the Labour Party and 
met a young lawyer from Bombay—Feroze Gandhi. He too was up 
to his neck in politics. They were married in Delhi in February 
1942. Six months later the British authorities had them both ar¬ 
rested and charged with subversion, and this was the beginning of a 
difficult, and certainly not happy, marriage. 

In 1947, when Nehru became prime minister, Indira practically 
went to live with her father, who was a widower and needed a 
woman at his side. Feroze Gandhi could never accept this choice. 
He opposed it until the day he died, in 1960, of a heart attack. But 
he didn’t blunt her decision. Driven likewise by resentment over 
the excessive attentions that, so they say, Feroze paid to other 
women, for seventeen years Indira spent more time with her father 
than with her husband. They called her “the first lady of India,” 
“the daughter of the nation.” Together with him she traveled, 
received heads of state, held rallies. In 1956, she joined the execu¬ 
tive committee of the party. In 1958, she became head of the party 
and expelled the men she had admired as a child. On Nehru’s 
death, in 1964, it seemed inevitable that she would take his place. 
And in the elections of 1966 she did so, carrying off 355 seats as 
against 169. Later, in the 1970 elections, her triumph was doubled 
and didn’t end till the day she betrayed democracy, the memory of 
her father, herself. So, until that day, one could say that her politi¬ 
cal biography had something in common with that of Golda Meir, 
who also came to power through a party career. And the parallel 
between the two women did not end there, since Golda too had an 
unhappy marriage, Golda too sacrificed to power the husband she 
loved and by whom she had had two children. Their lives con¬ 
firmed with chilling exactness how difficult it is for a woman of tal- 



ent to realize her talent and at the same time save her happiness. 
More than difficult, actually impossible to the point of tragedy. 
Paradoxically, I mean, the strain and injustice of being a woman 
were demonstrated precisely by the two women who had arrived at 
the top of the pyramid. And it was painful ind infuriating to dis¬ 
cover that a man with a destiny can follow it without giving up his 
family, without giving up love. A woman cannot. For her, the two 
things don’t coexist. Or they coexist only in tragedy. And such 
truth doesn’t end because Indira’s belief in democracy has ended. It 
remains a bitter reality on which men should meditate a lot. I say 
more: in that sense, I’m still on the side of Indira. My refusal of the 
woman as politician is not accompanied by my refusal of the 
woman as such. Even during the hours that followed the arrest of 
the opposition leaders and her coup, that is even during the burst of 
my indignation against her, I couldn’t help thinking how alone she 
was and how much more unhappy than a man who puts himself in 
the same situation. 

I met Indira Gandhi in her office in the government palace. The 
same office that had been her father’s—large, cold, and plain. She 
was sitting, small and slender, behind a bare desk. When I entered, 
she got up and came forward to give me her hand, then sat down 
again and cut the preliminaries short by fixing me with a gaze that 
meant: Go ahead with the first question, don’t waste time, I really 
have no time to waste. She answered cautiously at first. Then she 
opened up like a flower and the conversation flowed along without 
obstacles, in mutual sympathy. We were together for more than 
two hours, and when the interview was over, she left the office to 
accompany me to the taxi waiting for me in the street. Along the 
corridors and going down the stairs, she held me by the arm, as 
though she had always known me and talked about this and that, 
responding with an absent-minded nod to the bows of officials. She 
looked tired that day, and all of a sudden I exclaimed, “Deep down 
I don’t envy you, and I shouldn’t like to be in your place.” And she 
said, “The problem is not in the problems I have, it’s in the idiots 
around me. Democracy, you know . . .” I now wonder what she 
meant by that unfinished phrase. And sometimes I ask myself 
whether she had, even then, a certain contempt for the system she 
represented and, years later, would overthrow. 

Indira Gandhi 


Forty-eight hours later, having found some gaps in the interview, 

I wanted to see her again, but without standing on ceremony I went 
to her house, a modest bungalow that she shares with her sons 
Rajiv and Sanjay. No one is more accessible than Indira Gandhi 
when she is home, and you realize this in the morning when she 
receives people who come with petitions, protests, wreaths of 
flowers. I rang the bell, the secretary came to open the door, and I 
asked her if the prime minister could give me another half hour. 
The secretary answered, “Let’s see,” then went away and came 
back with Indira. “Come, sit down, let’s have a cup of tea. ” We sat 
down in the living room opening on the garden and talked for 
another hour. Besides the things I asked her, she told me about her 
son Rajiv, who is married to an Italian girl and is a pilot for Air- 
India, then of her younger son Sanjay, who is an automobile designer 
and still a bachelor. Finally she called a beautiful dark little boy 
who was playing on the lawn, and embracing him tenderly, mur¬ 
mured, “This is my grandchild; this is the man I love most in the 
world.” It was a strange sensation to watch this very powerful 
woman embracing a child. It brought back to mind the injustice I 
spoke of, the solitude that oppresses women intent on defending 
their own destinies, their own dreams, their own mistakes. 

The interview with Indira had a sequel. The fact is that Bhutto 
read it, lost his temper, and feeling jealous, sent for me so that I 
might hear his side. But this is a story I will save for later, in the 
chapter on Bhutto. What I care for, instead, is to make clear that 
this interview must be read recalling that it took place when she 
wasn’t what she is today, and I saw her as I don’t today. Usually I 
do not change my mind about people whom I met and judged. 
The first impression remains valid. But sometimes I do, with pride. 
Because having a mind means also using it to recognize a mistake 
and correct it. Especially when history is involved. And history is 
something in movement, in process, like life. History is life. 

ORIANA fallaci: Mrs. Gandhi, I have so many questions to ask 
you, both personal and political. The personal ones, however, 
I’ll leave for later—once I’ve understood why many people are 
afraid of you and call you cold, indeed icy, hard . . . 


indira gandhi: They say that because I’m sincere. Even too sin¬ 
cere. And because I don’t waste time in flowery small talk, as 
people do in India, where the first half hour is spent in com¬ 
pliments: “How are you, how are your children, how are your 
grandchildren, and so forth.” I refuse to indulge in small talk. 
And compliments, if at all, I save for after the job is done. But 
in India people can’t stomach this attitude of mine, and when I 
say, “Hurry up, let’s get to the point,” they feel hurt. And 
think I’m cold, indeed icy, hard. Then there’s another reason, 
one that goes with my frankness: I don’t put on an act. I don’t 
know how to put on an act; I always show myself for what 1 
am, in whatever mood I’m in. If I’m happy, I look happy; if 
I’m angry, I show it. Without worrying about how others may 
react. When one has had a life as difficult as mine, one 
doesn’t worry about how others will react. And now go ahead. 
You can ask anything you like. 

O.F.: Fine. I’ll begin with the most brutal question. You have won, 
more than won, a war. But quite a few of us consider this vic¬ 
tory a dangerous one. Do you really think that Bangladesh will 
be the ally you hoped for? Aren’t you afraid it may turn out in¬ 
stead to be a most uncomfortable burden? 

I.G.: Look, life is always full of dangers and I don’t think one 
should avoid dangers. I think one should do what seems right. 
And if what seems right involves danger . . . well, one must 
risk the danger. That’s always been my philosophy—I’ve never 
thought of the consequences of a necessary action. I examine 
the consequences later, when a new situation arises and I then 
face the new situation. And that’s it. You say this victory is 
dangerous. I say that today no one can yet tell if it’s danger¬ 
ous, that today I don’t see the risks you mention. If, however, 
those risks should become reality . . . I’ll act in accordance 
with the new reality. I hope that sounds like a positive state¬ 
ment. I want to answer you in a positive way. I want to state 
that there will be friendship between Bangladesh and our¬ 
selves. And not a one-sided friendship, of course—no one does 
anything for nothing; each has something to give and some¬ 
thing to take. If we offer something to Bangladesh, it’s obvious 
that Bangladesh is offering something to us. And why 
shouldn’t Bangladesh be able to keep its promises? Economi- 

Indira Gandhi 


cally it's full of resources and can stand on its feet. Politically 
it seems to me led by trained people. The refugees who took 
shelter here are going home. . . . 

O.F.: Are they really going home? 

i.G.: Yes, two million have already gone back. 

O.F.: Two million out of ten. That’s not much. 

i.G. : No, but give them time. They’re going back fast. Fast enough. 

I’m satisfied. More than I expected. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, in mentioning the dangers of your victory, I 
wasn’t referring only to Bangladesh. I was also referring to 
West Bengal, which is India, and which is now clamoring for 
its independence. I’ve heard the Naxalites in Calcutta . . . 
And there’s a sentence of Lenin’s that says, 'The world revolu¬ 
tion will pass through Shanghai and Calcutta.” 
i.G. : No. That’s not possible. And you know why? Because a revo¬ 
lution is already taking place in India. Things are changing 
here already—peacefully and democratically. There’s no 
danger of communism. There would be if we had a rightist 
government instead of mine. In fact the communists gained 
strength in India when the people thought my party was mov¬ 
ing to the right. And they were correct. In the face of such a 
threat, they had no other choice but to throw themselves to 
the far left. But now that the people are conscious of our ef¬ 
forts, now that they see us resolving problems, the communists 
are losing strength. As for the Naxalites in West Bengal, they 
are completely under control, and I’m sure that the ones in 
Bangladesh will also be brought under control. No, I don’t ex¬ 
pect trouble. 

O.F.: They’ve already given you some trouble, in Bangladesh. I saw 
fearful lynchings in Dacca after the liberation. 
i.G.: They happened in the first five days and were few in compari¬ 
son with the massacres that the others carried out, in compari¬ 
son with the million people the others killed. There were 
some unfortunate incidents, it’s true, and we tried to prevent 
them. If you only knew how many people we saved! But we 
couldn’t be everywhere, we couldn’t see everything, and it was 
inevitable that some things would escape us. I 11 all communi¬ 
ties you find groups that behave badly. But you must under¬ 
stand them too. They were so enraged, blinded by resentment. 


To be just, one should not consider what you saw in a few 
days but what they saw and suffered for many months. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, you know the accusation that it was you In¬ 
dians who provoked this war and attacked first. What do you 
say to that? 

I.G.: I’d answer by admitting that, if you want to go way back, we 
helped the Mukti Bahini. So, if you consider it all as begin¬ 
ning with that aid and from that moment, yes—we were the 
ones to start it. But we couldn't do otherwise. We couldn't 
keep ten million refugees on our soil; we couldn’t tolerate such 
an unstable situation for who knows how long. That influx of 
refugees wouldn't have stopped—on the contrary. It would 
have gone on and on and on, until there would have been an 
explosion. We were no longer able to control the arrival of 
those people, in our own interest we had to stop it! That’s 
what I said to Mr. Nixon, to all the other leaders I visited in 
an attempt to avert the war. 

However, when you look at the beginning of the actual war, 
it’s not hard to recognize that the Pakistanis were the ones to 
attack. They were the ones who descended on us with their 
planes, at five o'clock that afternoon when the first bombs fell 
on Agra. I can prove it to you by the fact that we were taken 
completely by surprise. The weekend is the only time when 
we in the government can leave Delhi, and, well, almost no 
one was in Delhi. I had gone to Calcutta. The defense minis¬ 
ter had gone to Patna and from there he was to go to Banga¬ 
lore in the south. The finance minister had gone to Bombay 
and was about to go to Poona. The head of the armed forces 
was somewhere else; I don’t remember where. We all had to 
rush back to Delhi, and for this reason our troops went on the 
counteroffensive only the next day, instead of in a few hours. 
For this reason the Pakistanis succeeded in occupying some 
areas. Naturally we were prepared; we knew that something 
would happen. But we were only really ready for air attacks. If 
it hadn’t been for that, they would have knocked us out. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, you mentioned the trip you took to Europe and 
America to avert the conflict. Can you tell the truth today 
about what happened? How did things go with Nixon? 
i.G. : I made the trip knowing I was like the child putting his finger 

Indira Gandhi 


into the hole in the dike. And there are things that ... I 
don’t know . . . one can’t . . . oh, why not! The truth is that 
I spoke clearly to Mr. Nixon. And I told him what I had al¬ 
ready told Mr. Heath, Mr. Pompidou, Mr. Brandt. I told 
him, without mincing words, that we couldn’t go on with ten 
million refugees on our backs, we couldn’t tolerate the fuse of 
such an explosive situation any longer. Well, Mr. Heath, Mr. 
Pompidou, and Mr. Brandt had understood very well. But not 
Mr. Nixon. The fact is that when the others understand one 
thing, Mr. Nixon understands another. I suspected he was 
very pro-Pakistan. Or rather I knew that the Americans had 
always been in favor of Pakistan—not so much because they 
were in favor of Pakistan, but because they were against India. 

However, I had recently had the impression they were 
changing—not so much by becoming less pro-Pakistan as by 
becoming less anti-India. I was wrong. My visit to Nixon did 
anything but avert the war. It was useful only to me. The ex¬ 
perience taught me that when people do something against 
you, that something always turns out in your favor. At least 
you can use it to your advantage. It’s a law of life—check it 
and you’ll see it holds true in every situation of life. Do you 
know why I won the last elections? It was because the people 
liked me, yes, because I had worked hard, yes, but also be¬ 
cause the opposition had behaved badly toward me. And do 
you know why I won this war? Because my army was able to 
do it, yes, but also because the Americans were on the side of 

O.F.: I don’t understand. 

i.G.: Let me explain. America always thought it was helping Paki¬ 
stan. But if it hadn’t helped Pakistan, Pakistan would have 
been a stronger country. You don’t help a country by support¬ 
ing a military regime that denies any sign of democracy, and 
what defeated Pakistan was its military regime. That regime 
supported by the Americans: Sometimes friends arc danger¬ 
ous. We must be very careful about the help friends give us. 

O.F.: And the Chinese? T he Chinese too were on Pakistan’s side, 
and unless I’m mistaken, China is the largest potential enemy 
of India. 

i.G.: No. I don’t see why we and the Chinese should have to be 



enemies. We don’t want to be their enemies. If that’s what 
they want, we can’t do anything about it, but I don’t think 
they really want it because I don’t think that in the final analy¬ 
sis it would do them any good. As for the position they held in 
this war . . . well, I think they’ve been more skillful than the 
Americans. Certainly they’ve had a lighter touch—had they 
wanted to, they could have done more for Pakistan. Isn’t that 
so? It was the Americans who sent the Seventh Fleet into the 
Bay of Bengal, not the Chinese. So as to take no chances, I 
didn’t remove our troops from the Chinese border, but I never 
believed the Chinese would intervene by making a false move. 
In other words, I never believed in the danger of a third world 
war. Naturally, if the Americans had fired a shot, if the Sev¬ 
enth Fleet had done something more than sit there in the Bay 
of Bengal . . . yes, the Third World War would have ex¬ 
ploded. But, in all honesty, not even that fear occurred to me. 

O.F.: It feels so strange to talk about war with you who were brought 
up in the cult of nonviolence, Mrs. Gandhi! I wonder how 
you’ve felt in these days of conflict. 

I.G.: You must keep in mind that it wasn’t my first war; I’ve had to 
face others. And anyway I’ll tell you a little story about non¬ 
violence. India had barely become independent, in 1947, 
when Pakistan invaded Kashmir, which at the time was ruled 
by a maharajah. The maharajah fled, and the people of Kash¬ 
mir, led by Sheikh Abdullah, asked for Indian help. Lord 
Mountbatten, who was still governor general, replied that he 
wouldn’t be able to supply aid to Kashmir unless Pakistan 
declared war, and he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that the 
Pakistanis were slaughtering the population. So our leaders 
decided to sign a document by which they bound themselves 
to go to war with Pakistan. And Mahatma Gandhi, apostle of 
nonviolence, signed along with them. Yes, he chose war. He 
said there was nothing else to do. War is inevitable when one 
must defend somebody or defend oneself. 

O.F.: The point is I persist in seeing this war as a war between 
brothers. I even said so to General Aurora and General Niazi. 
And both of them answered, ‘‘Basically we are brothers.” 

I.G.: Not basically—entirely. The Indians and Pakistanis are liter¬ 
ally brothers. I know you were surprised when, after the fall of 

Indira Gandhi 


Dacca, Pakistani and Indian officers shook hands. But do you 
realize that, up until 1965, in our army and the Pakistani one 
you could come across generals who were brothers? Blood 
brothers, sons of the same father and the same mother. Or you 
found an uncle on one side and a nephew on the other, a 
cousin here and a cousin there. Besides it’s still true today. I’ll 
tell you something else. There was a time when even two am¬ 
bassadors to Switzerland, the one from India and the one from 
Pakistan, were two blood brothers. Oh, the Partition imposed 
on us by the British was so unnatural! It served only to divide 
families, to break them up. I remember harrowing episodes. 
People who emigrated, people who didn’t want to emigrate. 

. . . Many Muslims didn’t want to leave India to go to live in 
Pakistan, but the propaganda was that there they’d have greater 
opportunities and so they left. Many Hindus, on the other 
hand, didn’t want to stay in Pakistan, but they had ties there or 
property and so they stayed. 

To become our enemies—what an absurdity. A crazy absur¬ 
dity when you stop to think that we, Muslims and Hindus, 
had conducted the struggle for independence together. Yes, 
even under the British there were hostile groups. There were 
clashes. But, as we found out later, these were clashes pro¬ 
voked by those who had no wish to let us live together—on the 
eve of the Partition. The policy of keeping us divided was 
always followed by foreigners, even after the Partition. If In¬ 
dians and Pakistanis had been together ... I don’t say as con¬ 
federated countries but as neighboring and friendly countries 
. . . like Italy and France, for example . . . believe me, both 
of us would have progressed much further. But, it would seem 
that it was not in the interest of ‘‘someone” for 11 s to make 
progress. It was in “someone’s” interest that we be always at 
war, that we tear each other to pieces. Yes, I’m inclined to ab¬ 
solve the Pakistanis. How should they have behaved? Some¬ 
one encouraged them to attack us, someone gave them weap¬ 
ons to attack us. And they attacked us. 

O.F.; Bhutto says that he would be ready to set up a confederation 
with India. What do you think of that, Mrs. Gandhi? 

I.G.: You know . . . Bhutto is not a very balanced man. When he 
talks, you never understand what he means. What does he 



mean this time? That he wants to be friends with us? We’ve 
wanted to be friends with him for some time; I’ve always 
wanted to. Here’s something that Westerners don’t know. The 
Western press has always insisted that India was Pakistan’s 
enemy and vice versa, that the Hindus were against the Mus¬ 
lims and vice versa. They’ve never said, for instance, that my 
part} 7 has been fighting this attitude ever since we were dis¬ 
membered into two countries. Since then we have maintained 
that religious hostilities are wrong and absurd, that minorities 
cannot be eliminated from a country’, that people of different 
religions must live together. 

But how is it possible for people in the modern world to go 
on killing each other for religion? The problems we should be 
concerned with nowadays are quite different! They’re the 
problems of poverty, of the rights of the individual, of the 
changes brought about by technology. They’re the ones that 
count, more than religion! Because they’re universal prob¬ 
lems, because they pertain in equal measure to Pakistan and 
ourselves. I can’t take it seriously when people get excited and 
scream that religion is in danger, and similar stupidities. Un¬ 
fortunately even in India there are people who talk like that. 
And they’re the same ones who say, “We should never have 
accepted the existence of Pakistan. Now that it exists, it ought 
to be destroyed.” But these are only a few madmen who have 
no following among the masses. 

In India you don’t find propaganda against Pakistan. During 
the war there was a little of it, naturally, but even during the 
war we were able to control it. In fact the Pakistanis were as¬ 
tonished by this. There were prisoners in the camp hospitals 
who exclaimed, “What? You’re a Hindu doctor and you want 
to cure me?” Look, I can only reply to Bhutto that, if he 
knows what he’s saying, he’s saying the only thing to be said. 
And if he didn’t say that, what would his future be? I’m told 
Bhutto is ambitious. I hope he’s very ambitious; ambition may 
help him see reality. 

O.F.: To digress a moment, Mrs. Gandhi. You’re not religious, are 

I.G.: Well ... it depends on what you mean by the word religion. 
Certainly I don’t go to temples and pray to the gods or any- 

Indira Gandhi 


thing like that. But if by religion we mean a belief in human¬ 
ity rather than the gods, an effort to make man better and a 
little happier, then yes, I’m very religious. 

O.F.: I hope that wasn’t an embarrassing question, Mrs. Gandhi. 

I.G.: No, why? 

O.F.: This one is embarrassing, however. You’ve always proclaimed 
a policy of nonalignment, then last August you signed the 
Indo-Soviet friendship pact. Isn’t there a conflict between the 
two things? 

I.G.: No, I wouldn’t say so. Because what does nonalignment 
mean? It means we don’t belong to any military bloc and that 
we reserve the right to be friends with any country, indepen¬ 
dently of the influence of any country. All this has remained 
unchanged after the signing of the Indo-Soviet treaty, and 
others can say or think what they like—our policy won’t 
change because of the Soviet Union. We know very well that 
India’s destiny is linked to world peace. However, the treaty 
exists, you say, and it puts us in a different position toward the 
Soviet Union than the one we have toward other countries. 
Yes, the treaty exists. Nor does it exist on only one side. Look 
how we’re situated geographically and you’ll see that India is 
very important for the Soviet Union. Still, in international 
matters, the treaty changes nothing. That is, it doesn’t prevent 
us from being friends with other countries, which indeed we 
are. It doesn’t prohibit us from practicing the same nonalign¬ 
ment, as indeed we do. And I assure you we’ll go on making 
our decisions without worrying whether it pleases or displeases 
the Soviet Union, China, America, France, or anyone else. 
Do you want to know something else? A month after the sign¬ 
ing someone asked Chou En-lai what he thought of it. And 
Chou En-lai answered, “It makes no difference. I don’t see 
why it should make any difference.” 

O.F.: Opening an Indian embassy in Hanoi in the near future does 
make a difference, howev er. In fact, you are head of the Inter¬ 
national Control Commission for Vietnam. What does this 
mean? That you’ll give up membership on the commission 
and your chairmanship? 

I.G.: I don’t know. . . . Obviously the problem arises. . . . But I 
still haven’t thought about how to resolve it. And to talk about 



this. . . . Let's talk about it anyway. Listen, the International 
Control Commission isn't doing anything, it’s never done any¬ 
thing. What good does it do to be on it or not? Before opening 
the embassy in Hanoi, I gave it a lot of thought, but it wasn’t 
really a painful decision. American policy in Vietnam is what 
it is, in Saigon the situation is anything but normal, and I’m 
happy to have done what I did. 

O.F.: So are people right to think you’re more on the left than your 
father was? 

I.G.: Look, I don’t see the world as something divided between right 
and left. And I don’t at all care who’s on the right or left or in 
the center. Even though we use them, even though I use 
them myself, these expressions have lost all meaning. I’m not 
interested in one label or the other—I’m only interested in 
solving certain problems, in getting where I want to go. I have 
certain objectives. They’re the same objectives my father had: 
to give people a higher standard of living, to do away with the 
cancer of poverty, to eliminate the consequences of economic 
backwardness. I want to succeed. And I want to succeed in the 
best way possible, without caring whether people call my ac¬ 
tions leftist or rightist. 

It’s the same story as when we nationalized the banks. I’m 
not for nationalization because of the rhetoric of national¬ 
ization, or because I see in nationalization the cure-all for 
every injustice. I’m for nationalization in cases where it’s nec¬ 
essary. When we were first considering it, my party was dis¬ 
turbed by one trend in favor and one against. So as not to split 
the party, I suggested a compromise: to give the banks a year’s 
time and see if they succeed in showing us that nationalization 
wasn’t necessary. The year went by and we realized it hadn’t 
done any good, that the money still ended up in the hands of 
the rich industrialists or friends of the bankers. So I concluded 
that it was necessary to nationalize the banks. And we did. 
Without considering it a socialist gesture or an antisocialist 
gesture, just a necessary one. Anyone who nationalizes only so 
as to be considered on the left to me is a fool. 

O.F.: However, you’ve used the word socialist on various occasions. 

I.G.: Yes, because it’s the closest to what I want to do. And because 
in all societies that have applied a form of socialism, a certain 

Indira Gandhi 


degree of social and economic equality has been achieved. But 
by now even the word socialism has so many meanings and 
interpretations. The Russians call themselves socialists, the 
Swedes call themselves socialists. And let’s not forget that in 
Germany there was also a national socialism. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, what does the word socialism mean to you? 

I.G.: Justice. Yes, it means justice. It means trying to work in a 
more egalitarian society. 

O.F.: But in the pragmatic sense, free of ideologies. 

I.G.: Yes. Because what good does it do to remain tied to an ideo¬ 
logy if you don’t achieve anything by it? I have an ideology 
myself—you can’t work in a vacuum; you have to have faith in 
something. As my father said, you have to keep an open 
mind, but you have to pour something into it—otherwise 
ideas slip away like sand between your fingers. The fact that I 
have an ideology, however, doesn’t mean I’m indoctrinated. 
Nowadays you can no longer let yourself be indoctrinated— 
the world is changing so fast! Even what you wanted twenty 
years ago is no longer relevant today; it’s outdated. 

Look, for me the only point that has remained unchanged 
through the years is that in India there is still so much poverty. 
A great part of the people still don’t enjoy the benefits they 
should have derived from independence—and so then what 
good does it do to be free? After all, why did we want to 
become free? Not just to throw out the British. About this we 
were always clear. We always said that our struggle was not 
only against the British as representatives of colonialism, it was 
against all the evil that existed in India. The evil of the feudal 
system, the evil of the system based on caste, the evil of eco¬ 
nomic injustice. Well, that evil has not been uprooted. After 
twenty years we’re politically free, yes, but very far from hav¬ 
ing reached the objective we set for ourselves. 

O.F.: So then what point have you reached? 

I.G.: That’s difficult to say because the point of arrival is continually 
shifting. Have you ever climbed a mountain? You see, once 
you arrive at the top of a mountain, you think you’ve reached 
the highest point. But it’s only an impression that doesn’t last 
long. You soon realize that the peak you’ve climbed was one 
of the lowest, that the mountain was part of a chain of moun- 



tains, that there are still so many, so many mountains to 
climb. . . . And the more you climb, the more you want to 
climb—even though you're dead tired. 

I mean, poverty assumes so many aspects here in India. 
There aren't only the poor that you see in the cities, there are 
the poor among the tribes, the poor who live in the forest, the 
poor who live on the mountains. Should we ignore them as 
long as the poor in the cities are better off? And better off with 
reference to what? To what people wanted ten years ago? Then 
it seemed like so much. Today it's no longer so much. So 
look, when you govern a country, and especially a country so 
vast and complex as India, you never arrive at anything. Just 
when you think you've achieved something, you realize you've 
achieved nothing. And still you have to go forward just the 
same—toward a dream so distant that your road has neither 
beginning nor end. 

O.F.: And you, Mrs. Gandhi—at what point have you arrived on 
this road? 

I.G.: At no point, at a very important point: that of having con¬ 
vinced the Indians that they can do things. At first people 
asked us, “Can you do it?" And we kept silent because we 
didn't believe in ourselves, we didn't believe that we could do 
things. Today people no longer say to us, “Can you?" They 
say, “When can you?" Because the Indians finally believe in 
themselves, they believe they can do things. Oh, the word 
“when" is so important for a people, for an individual! If an 
individual thinks he won't do it, he’ll never do it. Even if he's 
highly intelligent, even if he has countless talents. To become 
capable, one must have faith in oneself. Well, as a nation, I 
believe we've acquired faith in ourselves. And I like to think 
I've provided this faith. I also like to think that by providing 
faith, I've focused their pride. I say focused because pride isn't 
something you give. It doesn't even break out suddenly; it's a 
feeling that grows very slowly, very confusedly. Our pride has 
grown in the last twenty-five years, though others don't under¬ 
stand it and underestimate it. You’ve never been very gener¬ 
ous, you Westerners, toward us Indians. You should have 
seen that things were changing, albeit slowly. You should 

Indira Gandhi 169 

have seen that something was happening. Not much, but 

O.F.: Have you really not also given your people pride, Mrs. 
Gandhi? You yourself are so proud. 

I.G.: No. On the contrary, I’m not. No. 

O.F.: Of course you are. Wasn’t it an act of pride to refuse the aid 
the world offered you during the famine of 1966? I remember 
a ship loaded with grain, with food, that never left the port of 
Naples. And everything spoiled, while the people of India 
were dying. 

I.G.: I never heard about it. No, I didn’t know that the ship was 
loaded and ready to sail—otherwise I wouldn’t have refused it. 
But it’s true that I refused foreign aid. It’s true. It wasn’t my 
personal decision, however—it was the whole country that 
said no. And believe me, it happened by itself, all of a sudden. 
Yes, all of a sudden inscriptions appeared on walls. Signs ap¬ 
peared. And that '‘no” exploded all over India, in an act of 
pride that surprised even me. Then even the political parties, 
all of them, even the deputies in Parliament, said no: it’s bet¬ 
ter to die of hunger than be taken for a nation of beggars. I 
had to make myself the interpreter of that no, repeat it to those 
who wanted to help us. And it was hard for you, I understand. 

I think you were hurt by it. Sometimes we hurt one another 
without realizing it. 

O.F.: We didn’t want to hurt you. 

I.G.: I know. I repeat, I understand. But you must also understand 
us—always undervalued, underestimated, not believed. Even 
when we believed, you didn’t believe us. You said, “How is it 
possible to fight without violence?” But without violence we 
obtained our freedom. You said, “How is it possible for de¬ 
mocracy to work with an illiterate people who are dying of 
hunger?” But with that people we made a democracy work. 
You said, “Planning is something for communist countries; 
democracy and planning don’t go together!” But, with all the 
errors we committed, our plans succeeded. Then we an¬ 
nounced that there’d be no more starvation in India. And you 
responded, “Impossible. You’ll never succeed!” Instead we 
succeeded; today in India no one dies of hunger any more; 



food production far exceeds consumption. Finally we prom¬ 
ised to limit the birth rate. And this you really didn’t believe; 
you smiled scornfully. Well, even in this things have gone 
well. The fact is that we have grown by over seventy millions 
in ten years, but it’s also true that we have grown less than 
many other countries, including the countries of Europe. 

O.F.: Often through dreadful methods, like the sterilization of men. 
Do you approve of that, Mrs. Gandhi? 

I.G.: In India’s distant past, when the population was low, the bless¬ 
ing given a woman was, “May you have many children.” 
Most of our epics and literature stress this wish, and the idea 
that a woman should have many children hasn’t declined. I 
myself, in my heart, say that people should have all the chil¬ 
dren they want. But it’s a mistaken idea, like many of our 
ideas that go back thousands of years, and it must be rooted 
out. We must protect families, we must protect children, who 
have inalienable rights and should be loved, should be taken 
care of physically and mentally, and should not be brought 
into the world only to suffer. Do you know that, until re¬ 
cently, poor people brought children into the world for the 
sole purpose of making use of them? But how can you change, 
by force or all of a sudden, an age-old habit? The only way is 
to plan births, by one means or another. And the sterilization 
of men is one method of birth control. The surest, most radi¬ 
cal method. To you it seems dreadful. To me it seems that, 
properly applied, it’s by no means dreadful. I see nothing 
wrong in sterilizing a man who has already brought eight or 
ten children into the world. Especially if it helps those eight or 
ten children to live better. 

O.F.: Have you ever been a feminist, Mrs. Gandhi? 

I.G.: No, never. I’ve never had the need to; I’ve always been able to 
do what I wanted. On the other hand, my mother was. She 
considered the fact of being a woman a great disadvantage. 
She had her reasons. In her day women lived in seclusion—in 
almost all Indian states they couldn’t even show themselves on 
the street. Muslim women had to go out in purdah, that heavy 
sheet that covers even the eyes. Hindu women had to go out 
in the doli y a kind of closed sedan chair like a catafalque. My 
mother always told me about these things with bitterness and 

Indira Gandhi 


rage. She was the oldest of two sisters and two brothers, and 
she grew up with her brothers, who were about her age. She 
grew up, to the age of ten, like a wild colt, and then all of a 
sudden that was over. They had forced on her her 'woman’s 
destiny” by saying, “This isn’t done, this isn’t good, this isn’t 
worthy of a lady.” 

At a certain point the family moved to Jaipur, where no 
woman could avoid the doli or purdah. They kept her in the 
house from morning to night, either cooking or doing noth¬ 
ing. She hated doing nothing, she hated to cook. So she 
became pale and ill, and far from being concerned about her 
health, my grandfather said, “Who’s going to marry her now?” 
So my grandmother waited for my grandfather to go out, and 
then she dressed my mother as a man and let her go out riding 
with her brothers. My grandfather never knew about it, and 
my mother told me the story without a smile. The memory of 
these injustices never left her. Until the day she died, my 
mother continued to fight for the rights of women. She joined 
all the women’s movements of the time; she stirred up a lot of 
revolts. She was a great woman, a great figure. Women today 
would like her immensely. 

O.F.: And what do you think of them, Mrs. Gandhi? Of their liber¬ 
ation movement, I mean. 

I.G.: I think it’s good. Good. Because, you see, until today the 
rights of people have always been put forward by a few individ¬ 
uals acting in the name of the masses. Today instead people 
no longer want to be represented; each wants to speak for him¬ 
self and participate directly—it’s the same for the Negroes, for 
the Jews, for women. So not only Negroes and Jews, but also 
women are part of a great revolt of which one can only ap¬ 
prove. Women sometimes go too far, it’s true. But it’s only 
when you go too far that others listen. This is also something 
I’ve learned from experience. Didn’t they perhaps give us the 
vote because we went too far? Yes, in the Western world, 
women have no other choice. In India, no. And I’ll explain 
the reason. It’s a reason that also has to do with my own case. 
In India women have never been in hostile competition with 
men—even in the most distant past, every time a woman 
emerged as a leader, perhaps as a queen, the people accepted 



her. As something normal and not exceptional. Let’s not 
forget that in India the symbol of strength is a woman: the 
goddess Shakti. Not only that—the struggle for independence 
here has been conducted in equal measure by men and by 
women. And when we got our independence, no one forgot 
that. In the Western world, on the other hand, nothing of the 
kind has ever happened—women have participated, yes, but 
revolutions have always been made by men alone. 

O.F.: Now we come to the personal questions, Mrs. Gandhi. Now 
I’m ready to ask them. And here’s the first: Does a woman like 
you find herself more at ease with men or with women? 

I.G.: For me it’s absolutely the same—I treat one and the other in 
exactly the same way. As persons, that is, not as men and 
women. But, even here, you have to consider the fact that I’ve 
had a very special education, that I’m the daughter of a man 
like my father and a woman like my mother. I grew up like a 
boy, also because most of the children who came to our house 
were boys. With boys I climbed trees, ran races, and wrestled. 
I had no complexes of envy or inferiority toward boys. At the 
same time, however, I liked dolls. I had many dolls. And you 
know how I played with them? By performing insurrections, 
assemblies, scenes of arrest. My dolls were almost never babies 
to be nursed but men and women who attacked barracks and 
ended up in prison. Let me explain. Not only my parents but 
the whole family was involved in the resistance—my grand¬ 
father and grandmother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins of 
both sexes. So ever so often the police came and took them 
away, indiscriminately. Well, the fact that they arrested both 
my father and mother, both my grandfather and grandmother, 
both an uncle and an aunt, made me accustomed to looking 
on men and women with the same eyes, on an absolute plane 
of equality. 

O.F.: And then there’s that story about Joan of Arc, isn’t there? 

I.G.: Yes, it’s true. It’s true that Joan of Arc was my dream as a little 
girl. I discovered her toward the age of ten or twelve, when I 
went to France. I don’t remember where I read about her, but 
I recall that she immediately took on a definite importance for 
me. I wanted to sacrifice my life for my country. It seems like 

Indira Gandhi 


foolishness and yet . . . what happens when we’re children is 
engraved forever on our lives. 

O.F.: Yes indeed. And I’d like to understand what it is that’s made 
you what you are, Mrs. Gandhi. 

I.G.: The life I’ve had, the difficulties, the hardships, the pain I’ve 
suffered since I was a child. It’s a great privilege to have led a 
difficult life, and many people in my generation have had this 
privilege—I sometimes wonder if young people today aren’t 
deprived of the dramas that shaped us. ... If you only knew 
what it did to me to have lived in that house where the police 
were bursting in to take everyone away! I certainly didn’t have 
a happy and serene childhood. I was a thin, sickly, nervous 
little girl. And after the police came, I’d be left alone for weeks, 
months, to get along as best I could. I learned very soon to get 
along by myself. I began to travel by myself, in Europe, when 
I was eight years old. At that age I was already on the move 
between India and Switzerland, Switzerland and France, 
France and England. Administering my own finances like an 

People often ask me: Who has influenced you the most? 
Your father? Mahatma Gandhi? Yes, my choices were fun¬ 
damentally influenced by them, by the spirit of equality they 
infused in me—my obsession for justice comes from my fa¬ 
ther, who in turn got it from Mahatma Gandhi. But it’s not 
right to say that my father influenced me more than others, 
and I wouldn’t be able to say whether my personality was 
formed more by my father or my mother or the Mahatma or 
the friends who were with us. It was all of them; it was a 
complete thing. It was the very fact that no one ever imposed 
anything on me or tried to impose himself on the others. No 
one ever indoctrinated me. I’ve always discovered things for 
myself, in marvelous freedom. For instance, my father cared 
very much about courage, physical courage as well. He de¬ 
spised those who didn’t have it. But he never said to me, “I 
want you to be courageous.” He just smiled with pride ever)' 
time I did something difficult or won a race with the boys. 

O.F.: How much you must have loved that father! 

I.G.: Oh, yes! My father w^as a saint. He was the closest thing to a 



saint that you can find in a normal man. Because he was so 
good. So incredibly, unbearably good. I always defended him, 
as a child, and I think I’m still defending him—his policies at 
least. Oh, he wasn’t at all a politician, in no sense of the 
word. He was sustained in his work only by a blind faith in 
India—he was preoccupied in such an obsessive way by the fu¬ 
ture of India. We understood each other. 

O.F.: And Mahatma Gandhi? 

I.G.: A lot of mythology arose after his death. But the fact remains 
that he was an exceptional man, terribly intelligent, with tre¬ 
mendous intuition for people, and a great instinct for what was 
right. He said that the first president of India ought to be a 
harijan girl, an untouchable. He was so against the class sys¬ 
tem and the oppression of women that an untouchable woman 
became for him the epitome of purity and benediction. I 
began to associate with him when he came and went in our 
house—together with my father and mother he was on the ex¬ 
ecutive committee. After independence I worked with him a 
lot—in the period when there were the troubles between 
Hindus and Muslims, he assigned me to take care of the 
Muslims. To protect them. Ah, yes, he was a great man. 
However . . . between me and Gandhi there was never the 
understanding there was between me and my father. He was 
always talking of religion. ... He was convinced that was 
right. . . . The fact is, we young people didn’t agree with him 
on many things. 

O.F.: Let’s go back to you, Mrs. Gandhi, to your history as an un¬ 
usual woman. Is it true that you didn’t want to get married? 

I.G.: Yes. Until I was about eighteen, yes. But not because I felt 
like a suffragette, but because I wanted to devote all my en¬ 
ergies to the struggle to free India. Marriage, I thought, would 
have distracted me from the duties I’d imposed on myself. But 
little by little I changed my mind, and when I was about eigh¬ 
teen, I began to consider the possibility of getting married. Not 
to have a husband, but to have children. I always wanted to 
have children—if it had been up to me, I would have had 
eleven. It was my husband who wanted only two. 

And I’ll tell you something else. The doctors advised me not 
to have even one. My health was still not good, and they said 

Indira Gandhi 


that pregnancy might be fatal. If they hadn’t said that to me, 
maybe I wouldn’t have got married. But that diagnosis pro¬ 
voked me, it infuriated me. I answered, “Why do you think 
I’m getting married if not to have children? I don’t want to 
hear that I can’t have children; I want you to tell me what I 
have to do in order to have children!” They shrugged their 
shoulders and grumbled that perhaps if I were to put on weight 
that would protect me a little—being so thin, I would never 
succeed in remaining pregnant. All right, I said, I’ll put on 
weight. And I started having massages, taking cod-liver oil, 
and eating twice as much. But I didn’t even gain an ounce. I’d 
made up my mind that on the day the engagement was an¬ 
nounced I’d be fatter, and I didn’t gain an ounce. Then I went 
to Mussoorie, which is a health resort, and I ignored the doc¬ 
tors’ instructions; I invented my own regime and gained 
weight, just the opposite of what I’d like now. Now I have the 
problem of keeping slim. Still I manage. I don’t know if you 
realize I’m a determined woman. 

O.F. : Yes, I’ve realized that. And, if I’m not mistaken, you 
even showed it by getting married. 

I.G.: Yes, indeed. No one wanted that marriage, no one. Even 
Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t happy about it. As for my father 
. . . it’s not true that he opposed it, as people say, but he 
wasn’t eager for it. I suppose because the fathers of only 
daughters would prefer to see them get married as late as pos¬ 
sible. Anyway I like to think it was for that reason. My fiance, 
you see, belonged to another religion. He was a Parsi. And this 
was something nobody could stand—all of India was against 
us. They wrote to Gandhi, to my father, to me. Insults, death 
threats. Every day the postman arrived with an enormous sack 
and dumped the letters on the floor. We even stopped reading 
them; we let a couple of friends read them and tell us what 
was in them. “There’s a fellow who wants to chop you both 
into little pieces. There’s someone who’s ready to marry you 
even though he already has a wife. He says at least he’s a 
Hindu.” At a certain point the Mahatma got into the con¬ 
troversy—I’ve just found an article he wrote in his newspaper, 
imploring people to leave him in peace and not be so narrow¬ 
minded. In any case, 1 married Mr. Feroze Gandhi. Once I 



get an idea in my head, no one in the world can make me 
change my mind. 

O.F.: Let's hope the same thing didn't happen when your son Rajiv 
married an Italian girl. 

I.G.: Times have changed; the two of them didn't have to go 
through the same anguish I did. One day in 1965 Rajiv wrote 
me from London, where he was studying, and informed me, 
“You're always asking me about girls, whether I have a special 
girl, and so forth. Well, I've met a special girl. I haven't 
proposed yet, but she's the girl I want to marry." A year later, 
when I went to England, I met her. And when Rajiv returned 
to India, I asked him, “Do you still think about her in the 
same way?" And he said yes. But she couldn’t get married 
until she was twenty-one, and until she was sure she'd like to 
live in India. So we waited for her to be twenty-one, and she 
came to India, and said she liked India, and we announced 
the engagement, and two months later they were husband and 
wife. Sonia is almost completely an Indian by now, even 
though she doesn't always wear saris. But even I, when I was a 
student in London, often wore Western clothes, and yet I'm 
the most Indian Indian I know. If you only knew, for instance, 
how much I enjoy being a grandmother! Do you know I'm 
twice a grandmother? Rajiv and Sonia have had a boy and a 
girl. The girl was just born. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, your husband has now been dead for some 
years. Have you ever thought of remarrying? 

I.G.: No, no. Maybe I would have considered the problem if I'd 
met someone with whom I'd have liked to live. But I never 
met this someone and . . . No, even if I had met him, I'm 
sure I wouldn’t have got married again. Why should I get 
married now that my life is so full? No, no, it's out of the 

O.F.: Besides I can't imagine you as a housewife. 

I.G.: You're wrong! Oh, you're wrong! I was a perfect housewife. 
Being a mother has always been the job I liked best. Abso¬ 
lutely. To be a mother, a housewife, never cost me any sacri¬ 
fice— I savored every minute of those years. My sons ... I 
was crazy about my sons and I think I've done a super job in 
bringing them up. Today in fact they’re two fine and serious 

Indira Gandhi 


men. No, I’ve never understood women who, because of their 
children, pose as victims and don’t allow themselves any other 
activities. It’s not at all hard to reconcile the two things if you 
organize your time intelligently. Even when my sons were 
little, I was working. I was a welfare worker for the Indian 
Council for Child Welfare. Ill tell you a story. Rajiv was only 
four years old at that time, and was going to kindergarten. One 
day the mother of one of his little friends came to see us and 
said in a sugary voice, “Oh, it must be so sad for you to have 
no time to spend with your little boy!” Rajiv roared like a lion: 
“My mother spends more time with me than you spend with 
your little boy, see! Your little boy says you always leave him 
alone so you can play bridge!” I detest women who do nothing 
and then play bridge. 

O.F.: So there was a long period in your life when you stayed out of 
politics. Didn’t you believe in it any more? 

I.G.: Politics. . . . You see, it depends on what kind of politics. 
What we did during my father’s generation was a duty. And it 
was beautiful because its goal was the conquest of freedom. 
What we do now, on the other hand . . . Don’t think that 
I’m crazy about this kind of politics. It’s no accident that I’ve 
done everything to keep my sons out of it, and so far I’ve suc¬ 
ceeded. After independence I retired immediately from poli¬ 
tics. My children needed me, and I liked my job as a social 
worker. I said, “I’ve done my share. Leave the rest to the 
others.” I went back into politics only when it was clear that 
things weren’t going as they should have in my party. I was 
always arguing, I argued with everyone—with my father, with 
the leaders I had known since I was a child . . . and one day, 
it was in 1955, one of them exclaimed, “You do nothing but 
criticize! If you think you can correct things, correct them. Go 
ahead, why don’t you try?” Well, I could never resist a 
challenge, so I tried. But I thought it was something tempo¬ 
rary, and my father, who had never tried to involve me in his 
activities, thought so too. People who say it was her father who 
prepared her for the post of prime minister, it was her fattier 
who launched her, arc wrong. When he asked me to help 
him, I really didn’t suspect the consequences. 

O.F. : And yet everything began because of him. 


I.G.: Obviously. He was prime minister, and to take care of his 
home, to be his hostess, automatically meant to have my 
hands in politics—to meet people, to know their games, their 
secrets. It also meant to fall sooner or later into the trap of 
direct experience. And this came in 1957, a weekend when 
my father had to go north for a rally. I went with him, as 
always, and when we got to Chamba, we discovered that the 
lady who had charge of his schedule had also set up a meeting 
for him someplace else—for Monday morning. So if my father 
had given up the rally in Chamba, we’d have lost the elections 
in Chamba; if he gave up the one in the other city, which was 
near Pathankot, we’d lose the elections there. “And if I went?’’ 
I suggested. “If I spoke, and explained that you couldn’t be in 
two places at once?’’ He answered it was impossible. I’d have 
had to cover three hundred miles of bad road through the 
hills. And it was already two o’clock Monday morning. So I 
said good night and murmured, “A pity, it seemed to me a 
good idea.” At five-thirty, when I woke up, I found a note 
under the door. It was from my father. It said, “A plane will 
take you to Pathankot. From there it’s only three hours by car. 
You’ll arrive in time. Good luck.” I arrived in time and held 
the rally. It was a success and I was asked for others. That was 
the beginning of . . . everything. 

O.F.: Were you still married at that time, or were you already sepa¬ 

I.G.: But I always stayed married to my husband! Always, until the 
day he died! It’s not true that we were separated! Look, the 
truth is otherwise and . . . why not say it for once and for all? 
My husband lived in Lucknow. My father lived in Delhi, of 
course. So 1 shuttled between Delhi and Lucknow and . . . 
naturally, if my husband needed me on days when I was in 
Delhi, I ran back to Lucknow. But if it was my father who 
needed me, on days when I was in Lucknow, I ran back to 
Delhi. No, it wasn’t a comfortable situation. After all there’s 
quite a distance between Delhi and Lucknow. And . . . yes, 
my husband got angry. And he quarreled. We quarreled. We 
quarreled a lot. It’s true. We were two equally strong types, 
equally pigheaded—neither of us wanted to give in. And . . . 

I like to think those quarrels made us better, that they enliv- 

Indira Gandhi 


ened our life, because without them we would have had a nor¬ 
mal life, yes, but banal and boring. We didn’t deserve a nor¬ 
mal, banal, and boring life. After all, ours had not been a 
forced marriage and he had chosen me. ... I mean he was 
the one to choose me rather than I choosing him. ... I don’t 
know if I loved him as much as he loved me when we became 
engaged but . . . Then love grew, in me as well, it became 
something great and . . . well, you must understand him! 

It wasn’t easy for him to be my father’s son-in-law! It 
wouldn’t have been easy for anybody. Let’s not forget that he 
too was a deputy in Parliament! At a certain point, he gave in. 
He decided to leave Lucknow and live in Delhi, in my father’s 
house, with him and me. But, being a deputy in Parliament, 
how could he meet people in the house of the prime minister? 
He realized that right away, and so he had to find himself 
another small house, and this wasn’t convenient either. To be 
a little here and a little there, a little with us and a little alone. 

. . . No, life wasn’t easy for him either. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, have you ever had regrets? Were you ever afraid 
of giving in? 

I.G.: No. Never. Fear, any fear, is a waste of time. Like regrets. 
And every thing I’ve done, I’ve done because I wanted to do it. 
In doing it, I’ve plunged in headlong, always believing in it. 
Whether when I was a child and fought the British in the 
Monkey Brigade, or when I was a girl and wanted to have 
children, or when I was a woman and devoted myself to my 
father, making my husband angry. Each time I stayed in¬ 
volved all the way in my decision, and took the consequences. 
Even if I was fighting for things that didn’t concern India. Oh, 
I remember how angry I was when Japan invaded China! I im¬ 
mediately joined a committee to collect money and medi¬ 
cines, I immediately signed up for the International Brigade, I 
plunged headlong into propaganda against Japan. ... A per¬ 
son like me dosn’t have fear first and regrets afterward. 

O.F.: Besides, you haven’t made mistakes. There are those who say 
that, having won this war, no one will be able to dislodge you 
and you’ll stay in power for at least twenty years. 

I.G.: I instead haven’t the slightest idea how long I’ll stay, and I 
don’t even care to know, becuse I don’t care if I remain prime 



minister. I’m only interested in doing a good job as long as I’m 
capable and for as long as I don’t get tired. I’m certainly not 
tired—work doesn’t tire people, it’s getting bored that’s tiring. 
But nothing lasts forever, and no one can predict what will 
happen to me in the near or distant future. I’m not ambitious. 
Not a bit. I know I’ll astonish everyone by talking like this, but 
it’s God’s truth. Honors have never tempted me and I’ve never 
sought them. As for the job of prime minister, I like it, yes. 
But no more than I’ve liked other work that I’ve done as an 
adult. A little while ago I said that my father was not a politi¬ 
cian. I, instead, think I am. But not in the sense of being in¬ 
terested in a political career—rather in the sense that I think it 
necessary to strive to build a certain India, the India I want. 
The India I want, I’ll never tire of repeating, is a more just 
and less poor India, one entirely free of foreign influences. If I 
thought the country was already marching toward these objec¬ 
tives, I’d give up politics immediately and retire as prime min¬ 

O.F.: To do what? 

I.G.: Anything. As I told you, I fall in love with anything I do and I 
always try to do it well. And so? Being prime minister isn’t the 
only job in life! As far as I’m concerned, I could live in a 
village and be satisfied. When I’m not governing my country 
any more, I’ll go back to taking care of children. Or else I’ll 
start studying anthropology—it’s a science that’s always inter¬ 
ested me very much, also in relation to the problem of pov¬ 
erty. Or else I’ll go back to studying history—at Oxford I took 
my degree in history. Or else ... I don’t know, I’m fas¬ 
cinated by the tribal communities. I might busy myself with 

Listen, I certainly won’t have an empty life! And the future 
doesn’t frighten me, even if it threatens to be full of other dif¬ 
ficulties. I’m trained to difficulties; difficulties can’t be elimi¬ 
nated from life. Individuals will always have them, countries 
will always have them. . . . The only thing is to accept them, 
if possible overcome them, otherwise to come to terms with 
them. It’s all right to fight, yes, but only when it’s possible. 
When it’s impossible, it’s better to stoop to compromise, with¬ 
out resisting and without complaining. People who complain 

Indira Gandhi 181 

are selfish. When I was young, I was very selfish, now not any 
more. Now I don’t get upset by unpleasant things, I don’t play 
the victim, and I’m always ready to come to terms with life. 

O.F.: Mrs. Gandhi, are you a happy woman? 

I.G.: I don’t know. Happiness is such a fleeting point of view— 
there’s no such thing as continual happiness. There are only 
moments of happiness—from contentment to ecstasy. And if 
by happiness you mean ecstasy. . . . Yes, I’ve known ecstasy, 
and it’s a blessing to be able to say it because those who can 
say it are very few. But ecstasy doesn’t last long and is seldom 
if ever repeated. If by happiness you mean instead an ordinary 
contentment, then yes—I’m fairly contented. Not satisfied— 
contented. Satisfied is a word I use only in reference to my 
country, and I’ll never be satisfied for my country. For this 
reason I go on taking difficult paths, and between a paved road 
and a footpath that goes up the mountain, I choose the foot¬ 
path. To the great irritation of my bodyguards. 

O.F.: Thank you, Mrs. Gandhi. 

I.G.: Thank you. And best wishes. As I always say, I do not wish 
you an easy time, but I wish you that whatever difficulty you 
may have, you will overcome it. 

New Delhi , February 1972 


Ali Bhutto 

The invitation was disconcerting. It came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 
and there seemed no way to account for it. It asked only that I leave 
for Rawalpindi as soon as possible. I wondered why. Every journal¬ 
ist dreams of being summoned at least once by those who, when 
you go looking for them, run away or say no. But illogic is the stuff 
of dreams and leads to suspicion. Why did Bhutto want to see me? 
To entrust me with a message for Indira Gandhi? To punish me for 
having portrayed her with esteem and sympathy? The first hypoth¬ 
esis was immediately discarded. Bhutto had no need of a courier to 
communicate with his enemy—for that there were Swiss and Rus¬ 
sian diplomats. The second hypothesis was soon discarded. Bhutto 
has the reputation of being a civilized person, and civilized people 
don't usually kill their invited guests. The third hypothesis, that he 
intended to let me interview him, filled me with proper astonish¬ 
ment. And, instead, this was just what Bhutto had in mind, after 
reading my article on the president of Bangladesh, the unfortunate 
Mujibur “Mujib” Rahman. As I found out when my curiosity won 
out over my suspicion and I decided to accept the invitation. But in 
accepting it, I let him know that being his guest would not keep me 
from writing about him with the same independence of judgment 
that I applied to everyone without distinction and that no amount 
of courtesy or flattery' would ever be able to buy me off. Bhutto an- 


Ali Bhutto 183 

swered: certainly, all right. And this gave me my first impression of 
the man. 

The man is unpredictable, bizarre, carried away by whims, by 
strange decisions. And, let’s face it, highly intelligent. Intelligence 
of an astute, foxy kind, bom to charm, to confuse, while at the 
same time nourished by culture, memory, flair. As well as by a 
great urbanity. At the Rawalpindi airport I was met by two officials 
who announced to me with considerable emotion that the president 
would receive me in an hour. It was ten in the morning, and I had 
had no sleep for about forty-eight hours. Not in an hour, I pro¬ 
tested; I needed a good bath and a good sleep. Well, to someone else 
that would have been an insult. Not to him. He put off the meet¬ 
ing till seven-thirty in the evening, adding that he was expecting me 
for supper, and since intelligence combined with courtesy is the 
best instrument for seduction, it was inevitable that this meeting 
should be cordial. 

Bhutto, wreathed in smiles, greeted me with open arms. He was 
tall, stocky, a little stout for such thin legs and delicate feet, and he 
looked like a banker who wants to get you to open an account in 
his bank. He seemed older than his forty-four years. He was 
beginning to go bald; his remaining hair was gray. Under his thick 
eyebrows, his face looked heavy: heavy cheeks, heavy lips, heavy 
eyelids. A mysterious sadness was locked in his eyes. There was 
something shy about his smile. 

Like many powerful leaders, he too is weakened and crippled by 
shyness. He is also many other things and, as with Indira Gandhi, 
all of them in conflict among themselves. The more you study 
him, the more you remain uncertain, confused. Like a prism turn¬ 
ing on a pivot, he is forever offering you a different face, and at the 
same moment that he gives in to your scrutiny, he withdraws. So 
you can define him in countless ways and all of them are true: lib¬ 
eral and authoritarian, fascist and communist, sincere and a liar. 
He is undoubtedly one of the most complex leaders of our time and 
the only interesting one his country has so far produced. The only 
one, moreover, capable of saving it, at least for a while. Anyone 
will tell you there is no alternative to Bhutto. If Bhutto goes, Paki¬ 
stan will be erased from the map. 

In this sense, he reminds you less of Indira Gandhi than of King 



Hussein. Like Hussein, he is accused of leading a nation artificially 
born. Like Hussein he is in an earthenware pot squeezed among 
iron pots: the Soviet Union, India, China, America. Like Hussein, 
he is determined not to yield, and resists with the courage of a 
trapeze artist with no net to protect him. But in another sense, he 
reminds you of John Kennedy. Like Kennedy, he grew up in the 
kind of wealth for which nothing is impossible, not even the con¬ 
quest of political power, cost what it may. Like Kennedy, he had a 
comfortable, happy, privileged childhood. Like Kennedy, he began 
his rise to power very early. 

The fact is he comes from a family of aristocrats and landowners. 
He studied at Berkeley and then at Oxford, taking his degree in in¬ 
ternational law. At slightly more than thirty, he was one of Ayub 
Khan's ministers, though he detested him. At slightly less than 
forty, he was one of Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan’s ministers, 
though he despised him. He arrived at the presidency with painful 
patience, without letting himself be bothered by the bad odor of 
certain associates. 

Power is a more overwhelming passion than love. And those who 
love power have strong stomachs, and even stronger noses. They 
don’t mind bad odors. Bhutto didn’t mind them ever. He loves 
power. It is difficult to guess the nature of this power. His own 
response to it is ambiguous, he warns you against politicians who 
tell the truth or exhibit a boy-scout morality. Listening to him, you 
are almost led to believe that his ambition is a noble one, that he 
really intends to build a sincere and disinterested socialism. But 
then you visit his splendid library in Karachi, and discover that in 
the place of honor are sumptuous volumes on Mussolini and Hit¬ 
ler, bound in silver. From the tenderness with which they are kept, 
you conclude that their presence is not due to a book collector’s 
idle curiosity. Doubt and anger arise in you. You ask him, and 
learn that his true friends were Sukarno and Nasser: two individuals 
perhaps moved by good intentions but certainly not two liberals. 
You’re left perplexed. Is it his secret dream to become dictator, to 
be exalted one day by sumptuous volumes bound in silver? Mind 
you, this is the kind of question asked by Westerners ignorant of the 
tragedy of a country where freedom, democracy, and political op¬ 
position have never had any meaning and have always been re¬ 
placed by hunger, injustice, and humiliation. But it is still a valid 

Ali Bhutto 185 

question, as ominous as the expression that fires up his gaze when 
something displeases him. 

The following interview was conducted in five sessions, during 
the six days that I remained his guest and followed him on a trip 
through a few provinces. While strictly adhering to his words as 
recorded on tape, it is thus a mosaic of five different conversations. 
The first in Rawalpindi, the evening of my arrival. The second on 
the plane that took us to Lahore. The third in Hala, a city in Sind. 
The fourth and fifth in Karachi. I was always at his side, whether at 
the table or en route, and if I wanted to, I could do a portrait of 
him from my diary of those days. Bhutto, dressed in Pakistani fash¬ 
ion, in gray-green pajamas and sandals, who harangues the crowd 
in Sanghar where several years ago he escaped an assassination at¬ 
tempt, and the crowd is sullen; he shouts hoarsely into the micro¬ 
phone in Urdu, then in Sindhi, throws out his arms, offers himself 
with audacious insolence to other possible gunshots. And this is 
Bhutto the demagogue, avid for applause and authority. Or else 
Bhutto making people wait for hours in a courtyard in Hala; the 
city notables are there but he lingers in his room—he is writing. It 
is night when he finally arrives, advancing like a prince on the 
beautiful carpets, and like a prince he sits down and has me sit be¬ 
side him—the only woman among so many mustachioed men, al¬ 
most a well-calculated provocation. Thus seated, he receives in au¬ 
dience members of his party, governors, separatists, one by one, 
with a haughty signal of his finger; at the end he receives a poor 
man with a goat covered with tassels to be sacrificed in his honor. 

And this is the aristocratic Bhutto, the Muslim Bhutto that no 
amount of Western culture will ever basically change—it is no ac¬ 
cident that he has two wives. Or else Bhutto flying in a military 
helicopter, uncomfortable, wearing on his head a cap given him by 
Chou En-lai—his talisman. During the flight he gazes with tears in 
his eyes at the dry uncultivated fields, the mud huts where the 
peasants live a prehistoric existence. All of a sudden he clenches his 
fists and murmurs, “I must succeed, I must succeed/' And this is 
the Marxist Bhutto, submerged up to his neck in the mirage of 
making Pakistan less unhappy and less hunger-stricken. Finally, the 
Bhutto who receives me in his houses in Karachi and Rawalpindi: 
explaining himself, pleading his cause, ruthlessly attacking Indira 
Gandhi, Mujib Rahman, Yahya Khan. His houses arc furnished 



with exquisite taste, old Persian rugs and precious enamels, air con¬ 
ditioning, and photographs with inscriptions by his most powerful 
world colleagues, beginning with Mao Tse-tung. At dinner we 
drink wine, perhaps eat caviar; also present is his second wife, 
Nusrat, a beautiful woman with pleasant manners, and later his 
son comes in, a lively little boy with long hair. And this is the 
modern, refined, European Bhutto. Bhutto the brilliant speaker, 
author of books, who knows the English language better than Urdu 
and evokes the sympathy of any Westerner. A rash conclusion. As 
Walter Cronkite said when I asked him about Richard Nixon, Lyn¬ 
don Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, about the leaders he had inter¬ 
viewed in his long career as a television reporter: You cannot judge 
a head of state by seeing in him only the man. You shouldn’t. 
Because the moment you discover that he too is only a man, with 
the virtues and defects and inconsistencies of a man, you inevitably 
like him and forget the rest. 

This interview with Bhutto also unleashed a pandemonium. Not 
a journalistic one as in the case of Kissinger, but a diplomatic and 
even international one. For just as Bhutto had been offended to 
read that Indira called him an unbalanced man, so Indira was of¬ 
fended to read that Bhutto called her a mediocre woman with a 
mediocre intelligence, a creature devoid of initiative and imagina¬ 
tion, a drudge without even half her father’s talent, and said that 
the idea of meeting her, of shaking her hand, filled him with acute 
disgust. Needless to say, Indira had every reason to be offended. In 
judging her, Bhutto had been heavy-handed and too guided by 
hatred. I myself was actually embarrassed by it, and in my embar¬ 
rassment had tried repeatedly to restrain him. “Aren’t you being a 
little excessive, a little unjust?” But Bhutto had not taken my 
suggestion, and indeed had insisted on adding other perfidious 
remarks that I had not published, and my censorship had not done 
much good. The result was the dramatic, or rather ridiculous, con¬ 
sequences that I involuntarily caused. 

Bhutto and Indira were supposed to meet at that time, to sign the 
peace agreement between India and Pakistan. Alerted by certain 
sentences reported in the New Delhi newspapers, Indira requested 
the complete text of the interview and had it transmitted by cable 
from Rome. Then she read it and announced that the meeting be- 

Ali Bhutto 


tween herself and the prime minister of Pakistan would not take 
place. Bhutto lost his head and, not knowing where on earth to 
turn, turned to me. He sought me out again, through his ambas¬ 
sador to Italy. He traced me to Addis Ababa, where I had gone to 
see Haile Selassie. And here he made the most extravagant request 
of me. 

I must write, he said, a second article and say that the interview 
with him, Bhutto, had never taken place because I had dreamed it 
up. I was to say that the opinions about Indira were not opinions 
uttered by him, but rather those that, in my imagination, I had 
thought he might utter. At first I didn't think I had understood. 
“What did you say, Mr. Ambassador?" “I said you should write that 
you invented everything, and particularly the part about Mrs. 
Gandhi." “But are you crazy, Mr. Ambassador? Has your prime 
minister gone crazy too?" “Miss Fallaci, you must understand, the 
lives of six hundred million people depend on you, they're in your 
hands." I cursed and told him to go to hell. But Bhutto did not give 
up and went on looking for me. Wherever I went I was pursued by 
an important Pakistani who begged me to disavow the interview, 
then reminded me that the lives of six hundred million people were 
in my hands. Vainly 1 replied that my hands were too small to con¬ 
tain six hundred million human beings, vainly I shouted that their 
demand was absurd and insulting. The nightmare ended only when 
Indira magnanimously decided to act as though Bhutto's error 
had never happened. And the two of them met to sign the peace 

It was amusing to watch them on television wTile they shook 
hands and exchanged smiles. Indira's smile was triumphant and 
ironical. Bhutto's displayed such discomfort that, even on the black- 
and-white screen, you seemed to see him blushing to the roots of 
his hair. 

zulfikar ali BHUTTO: I must tell you why l was so eager to meet 
you. First of all, because you're the only journalist w'ho has 
written the truth about Mu jib Rahman. I enjoyed your article 
very much. And then because . . . look, it was much less en¬ 
joyable to read that I had something to do with the March 
suppression in Dacca. 



ORIANA fallaci: Something to do with? Mr. President, in Dacca 
they come right out and say it was you who wanted the massa¬ 
cre. You who wanted the arrest of Mu jib. And that for this 
reason you stayed in the city until the morning of March 26. 

Z.A.B.: To enjoy the spectacle from the windows of my suite on the 
top floor of the Hotel Intercontinental, drinking whisky and 
perhaps playing the lyre like Nero. But how dare they try to 
discredit me by an incident so barbarous and stupid? The 
whole business was conducted in such a stupid way. They let 
all the leaders escape to India and then they took it out on the 
poor wretches who counted for nothing. Only Mujib was ar¬ 
rested. Let’s be logical. I would have done it with more in¬ 
telligence, more scientifically, less brutally. Tear gas, rubber 
bullets, and I would have arrested all the leaders. Oh, only a 
disgusting drunkard like ex-President Yahya Khan could have 
sullied himself with an operation carried out so badly and 

Anyway, what interest would I have had in wanting such 
madness? Do you know that Yahya Khan’s first victim was not 
to have been Mujib but myself? Many people in my party 
were in prison, and at the end of 1970, November 5, 1970, to 
be exact, he had said to Mujib, “Should I arrest Bhutto or 
not?” Look, the only reason why he reversed his schedule was 
that in West Pakistan he couldn’t control the situation as in 
East Pakistan. Besides Mujib has never been intelligent—he 
let himself be backed into a corner. 

But to conclude, the tragedy of March 25 caught me by 
surprise. Yahya Khan fooled even me. He had given me an 
appointment for the following day. And, days later, General 
Mohd Umar revealed to me that he’d resorted to this stratagem 
so that I’d stay in Dacca and “see the efficiency of the army. ” I 
give you my word of honor that all this is true. 

O.F.: All right, Mr. President. But I wonder if history will ever have 
the exact version of what happened that terrible night and in 
the months that followed. Mujib Rahman . . . 

Z.A.B.: Mujib, as you’ve seen, is a congenital liar. He can’t help 
telling lies—it’s something stronger than he. Mujib talks at 
random, depending on his mood and the disorders of his sick 
mind. For instance, he says there were three million dead. 

Ali Bhutto 


He’s mad, mad! And they’re all mad, the press included, who 
repeat after him, ‘Three million dead, three million dead!” 
The Indians had let out the figure of one million. He came 
along and doubled it. Then tripled it. It’s a characteristic of 
the man—he’d done the same for the hurricane. Look, ac¬ 
cording to Indian journalists, the dead that night were between 
sixty and seventy thousand. According to certain missionaries, 
there were thirty thousand. According to what I’ve been able 
to find out so far, there must have been something like fifty 
thousand. Mind you, too many. Even if the action was mor¬ 
ally justified. I’m not trying to minimize things; I’m trying to 
bring them back to reality—there’s quite a difference between 
fifty’ thousand and three million. 

The same goes for the refugees. Mrs. Gandhi says ten mil¬ 
lion. It’s obvious she started with that figure in order to legal¬ 
ize her offensive and invade East Pakistan. But when we in¬ 
vited the United Nations to check, the Indians were opposed. 
Why were they opposed? If the figure were exact, they 
shouldn’t have been afraid of its being verified. The fact is it’s 
not a question of ten million but of two. On the number of 
dead I may even be wrong, but not on the number of refugees. 
We know who left the country. And many were Bengalis from 
West Bengal, sent from Calcutta. It was she who sent them— 
Mrs. Gandhi. Since the Bengalis all look alike, who was to 

And now let’s talk about the other story: the women raped 
and killed. I don’t believe it. Certainly there was no lack of ex¬ 
cesses, but General Tikka Khan says that in those months he 
often invited the population to report abuses to him directly. 
He made his appeal wdth loudspeakers, and still he came to 
know of only four cases. Shall we multiply by ten and make it 
fort>? We’re still far from the senseless figures spread around 
by Mu jib and la Gandhi. 

O.F.: No, Mr. President. Go ahead and multiply by a thousand and 
even by ten thousand, and you’ll come closer. If Mujib is talk¬ 
ing at random when he says three million dead, Tikka Khan is 
joking when he says four cases. Mass atrocities took place, and 
how! I’m speaking as one who saw the corpses in Dacca. And 
by the way, you just used an awful expression, Mr. President. 



You said “Morally justifiable.” Or rather, “justified.” Did I 
understand you? Did you really mean to say that this massacre 
was morally justified? 

z.a.b.: Every government, every country, has the right to exercise 
force when necessary. For instance, in the name of unity. You 
can't build without destroying. To build a country, Stalin was 
obliged to use force and kill. Mao Tse-tung was obliged to use 
force and kill. To mention only two recent cases, without rak¬ 
ing over the whole history of the world. Yes, there are circum¬ 
stances where a bloody suppression is justifiable and justified. 
In March the unity of Pakistan depended on the suppression of 
the secessionists. But to carry it out with such brutality on the 
people instead of on those responsible wasn’t necessary. That’s 
not the way to convince poor people who’ve been told that 
with the Six Points there’ll be no more hurricanes, no more 
floods, no more hunger. I spoke out against such methods 
more emphatically than anyone else, and when no one dared 
do so. 

O.F.: Nevertheless you’ve now put Tikka Khan, the general who 
directed the massacre, at the head of the army. Right? 

z.a.b.: Tikka Khan was a soldier doing a soldier’s job. He went to 
East Pakistan with precise orders and came back by precise or¬ 
ders. He did what he was ordered to do, though he wasn’t 
always in agreement, and I picked him because I know he’ll 
follow my orders with the same discipline. And he won’t try to 
stick his nose in politics. I can’t destroy the whole army, and 
anyway his bad reputation for the events in Dacca is exagger¬ 
ated. There’s only one man really responsible for those 
events—Yahya Khan. Both he and his advisers were so drunk 
with power and corruption they’d even forgotten the honor of 
the army. They thought of nothing but acquiring beautiful 
cars, building beautiful homes, making friends with bankers, 
and sending money abroad. Yahya Khan wasn’t interested in 
the government of the country, he was interested in power for 
its own sake and nothing else. What can you say of a leader 
who starts drinking as soon as he wakes up and doesn’t stop 
until he goes to bed? You’ve no idea how painful it was to deal 
with him. He was really Jack the Ripper. 

Ali Bhutto 


O.F.: Where is he now, Yahya Khan? What do you intend to do 
with him? 

z.a.b.: He's under house arrest in a bungalow near Rawalpindi, a 
bungalow that belongs to the government. Yes, I have a big 
problem on my hands with him. I’ve set up a war commission 
to study the responsibilities inherent in the recent conflict. I’m 
waiting to see the results, and that’ll help me to decide. If the 
commission finds him guilty, I think there’ll be a trial. The 
defeat we suffered is his—Mrs. Gandhi can rightly boast of 
having won a war, but if she won it, she should first of all 
thank Yahya Khan and his gang of illiterate psychopaths. Even 
to get him to reason was an impossible task—it only made you 
lose your temper. 

In April, after that fine business in Dacca, he sent for me. 
He looked satisfied, sure of himself, by now convinced he had 
the situation in hand. He offered me a drink. ‘‘Well, you poli¬ 
ticians are really finished,” he said. Then he said that not only 
Mu jib but I too was considered an agitator, I too was preach¬ 
ing against the unity of Pakistan. “I’m always under pressure to 
arrest you, Bhutto.” 1 got so angry I lost all control. I answered 
that I would not let myself be intimidated by him, that his 
methods had led us to disaster; I threw away the glass of whisky 
and left the room. There I was stopped by General Pirzada, 
who took me by the arm. “No, come on, calm down, have a 
seat, go back in.” I calmed down and went back. I tried to 
explain to him that there was a great difference between me 
and Mujib: he w'as a secessionist and I wasn’t. A useless task. 
Instead of listening to me, he went on drinking, drinking. 
Then he got nasty and . . . 

O.F.: Mr. President, can we go back a moment and try to under¬ 
stand how you arrived at that terrible March, morally justifi¬ 
able or not? 

z.a.b. : Look here. On January 27 I had gone to Dacca to confer 
with Mujib. If you wanted to discuss matters with him, you 
had to make a pilgrimage to Dacca—he never condescended 
to come to Rawalpindi. I went even though it was just that day 
that my sister’s husband had died; he was to be buried in the 
ancestral tomb in Larkana. And my sister w^as offended. In the 



elections, Mujib had obtained a majority in East Pakistan and 
I had obtained one in West Pakistan. But now he was insisting 
on the Six Points and we had to come to an agreement— 
Yahya Kahn was demanding that within four months we work 
out the Constitution, otherwise the Assembly would be dis¬ 
solved and new elections called. To make Mujib understand 
this was a desperate undertaking—you can’t expect brains from 
someone who doesn’t have them. I argued, I explained, and 
he kept repeating dully and monotonously: 'The Six Points. 
Do you accept the Six Points?” Good Lord, on the first, on 
the second, on the third I was even ready to negotiate. But the 
fourth anticipated that each province would make its own 
foreign trade and foreign aid arrangements any way it liked. 
What would happen to the sovereignty of the state, the unity 
of the country? Besides that, it was known that Mujib wanted 
to separate East Pakistan from West Pakistan and that he’d 
been keeping up connections with the Indians since 1966. So 
in January our talks had been interrupted and we come to 

In the middle of March, Yahya Khan came to Karachi and 
told me he was going to Dacca—did I want to go too? Yes, I 
answered, if Mujib were ready to talk to me. The telegram in¬ 
forming me that Mujib was ready to talk to me was sent from 
Dacca by Yahya Khan himself. I left on March 19. On the 
twentieth I met Yahya and on the twenty-first I met Mujib, 
together with Yahya. A surprise: Mujib was all sweetness and 
light with Yahya. "I’ve come to reach an agreement with you, 
Mr. President, and I want nothing to do with Mr. Bhutto. I’ll 
tell the press that I have met with the president and that Mr. 
Bhutto was there by chance,” he said in a ceremonious tone. 
And Yahya: "No, no, Mujib. You must speak for yourself.” 
And Mujib: "So many people are dead in the hurricane, so 
many people are dead.” That’s the way he is. All of a sudden a 
sentence engraves itself on his sick mind, even a sentence that 
has nothing to do with what you’re talking about, and he goes 
on repeating it like an obsession. At a certain point I lost pa¬ 
tience. How was I responsible for the hurricane? Had I been 
the one to send the hurricane? Mu jib’s answer was to get up 

Ali Bhutto 


and say that he had to leave to go to a funeral. And . . . oh, 
it's not worth the trouble. 

O.F.: Yes, it is. Please, Mr. President, go on. 

z.a.b.: The fact is that when you talk about Mujib, everything 
seems so incredible. I don't understand how the world can 
take him seriously. Well, I got up too, to escort him to the 
anteroom, though he didn't want me to. In the anteroom 
there were three people: Yahya's aide-de-camp, his military 
secretary, and his political butcher, General Umar. Mujib 
began screaming, “Go away, everybody go away! I have to talk 
to Mr. Bhutto!" The three of them went out. He sat down and 
then: “Brother, brother! We must come to an agreement, 
brother! For the love of God, I implore you!" Astonished, I 
took him outside so no one would hear him. Outside, and in a 
particularly excited tone, he declared that I must take West 
Pakistan for myself, he East Pakistan, and that he had set up 
everything for a secret meeting. After dark he would send for 
me. 1 told him I didn’t like this business. I hadn't come to 
Dacca to meet him like a thief under a banana tree and in the 
dark, I didn't intend to dismember Pakistan, and if he wanted 
secession, he had only to propose it to the Assembly, counting 
on his absolute majority. But it was like talking to a wall. I had 
to accept the compromise of resuming talks through our 
spokesmen. Which is what happened—without leading to 
anything, of course. In those days he was more deranged than 
ever—he lost his head over nothing. And so we arrived at the 

O.F.: You didn’t notice anything suspicious on March 25? 

z.a.b.: Yes. I felt a certain uneasiness, a strange sensation, which 
had come to a head. Every evening I went to Yahya to report 
that Mujib and I weren't making any progress, and Yahya 
showed no interest. He looked away or complained about the 
television or grumbled because he couldn’t listen to his favor¬ 
ite songs—his records hadn’t arrived from Rawalpindi. Then 
the morning of the twenty-fifth he said something that left me 
disconcerted: “There’s no need to meet Mujib today. Well see 
him tomorrow, you and I." Still I said, “All right," and at 
eight in the evening I reported everything to Mujib's envoy. 



And he exclaimed, “That son of a bitch has already left.” I 
didn’t believe it. I telephoned the presidential residence and 
asked to speak with Yahya. They told me he couldn’t be dis¬ 
turbed; he was at supper with General Tikka Khan. 1 tele¬ 
phoned Tikka Khan. They told me he couldn’t be disturbed; 
he was at supper with Yahya Khan. Only then did I begin to 
worry, and suspecting a trick, I went to supper. Then to sleep. 
I was awakened by gunfire and by friends running in from 
other rooms. 1 ran to the window, and as God is my witness, I 
wept. I wept and said, “My country is finished.” 

O.F.: Why? What did you see from that window? 

Z.A.B.: I didn’t see any indiscriminate killing, but the soldiers were 
trying to demolish the offices of the People, an opposition 
newspaper that had its offices right in front of the Intercon¬ 
tinental. With their loudspeakers they were ordering people to 
leave. Those who came out were put to one side under the 
threat of machine guns. Other groups, on the sidewalk, were 
being kept at bay with machine guns and the hotel was sur¬ 
rounded by tanks. Anyone who tried to take shelter in it fell 
into the hands of the soldiers. That’s all. That Mujib had been 
arrested I found out at eight in the morning, when I left. How 
did I take it? I was glad he was alive and I thought they might 
have maltreated him a little. Then I thought that his arrest 
might help to reach a compromise. They wouldn’t keep him 
in prison more than a month or two, and in the meantime 
we’d be able to bring back law and order. 

O.F.: Mr. President, Mujib told you, “You take West Pakistan and 
I’ll take East Pakistan.” That’s just how it’s turned out. Do you 
hate him for this? 

Z.A.B.: Not at all. And I don’t say it in the Indian fashion, that is 
hypocritically. I say it sincerely because, instead of hatred, I 
feel great compassion for him. He’s so incapable, conceited, 
lacking in culture, common sense, everything. He’s in no 
position to resolve any problem: either politically, or socially, 
or economically, or internationally. He only knows how to 
shout and put on a lot of airs. I’ve known him since 1954 and 
I’ve never taken him seriously—I understood from the very 
first moment that there was no depth to him, no preparation, 
that he was an agitator breathing a lot of fire and with an 

Ali Bhutto 


absolute lack of ideas. The only idea he’s ever had in his head 
is the idea of secession. Toward someone like that, how can 
you feel anything except pity? 

In 1961, during a trip to Dacca, I saw him again. He was in 
the lobby of my hotel; I went up to him and said, “Hello, 
Mujib, let’s have a cup of tea.’’ He was just out of prison, he 
seemed full of bitterness, and this time we were almost able to 
talk quietly. He said how East Pakistan was exploited by West 
Pakistan, treated like a colony, sucked of its blood—and it was 
very true; I’d even written the same thing in a book. But he 
didn’t draw any conclusions, he didn’t explain that the fault 
was in the economic system and in the regime, he didn’t speak 
of socialism and struggle. On the contrary, he declared that 
the people weren’t prepared for struggle, that no one could op¬ 
pose the military, that it was the military that had to resolve 
the injustices. He had no courage. He never has had. Does he 
really call himself, to journalists, “the tiger of Bengal”? 

O.F.: He even says that at his trial he refused to defend himself and 
that his behavior after his arrest was heroic. He was in a cell 
where there wasn’t even a mattress to sleep on. 

z.a.b.: Come on now! He wasn’t in a cell, he was in an apartment 
that’s put at the disposal of important political detainees. In 
Lyallpur, near Mianwali, the Punjab prison. True, he wasn’t 
allowed to read the newspapers and listen to the radio, but he 
had the entire library of the governor of Punjab at his disposal 
and he lived quite well indeed. At a certain point they even 
gave him a Bengali cook because he wanted to eat Bengali 
dishes. At his trial he defended himself, and how! He asked for 
the services of two eminent lawyers: Kama! Hussain and A. K. 
Brohi, his legal adviser and friend. Kamal Hussain was in 
prison but not Brohi, and to have Brohi means to have the 
best of the best. I’ll tell you something else. At first Brohi 
didn’t want to accept but Yahya Khan forced him, and he 
then presented himself at the trial with four assistants, four 
other lawyers. Paid for by the state, naturally. It cost a fortune, 
that trial. Well, Brohi has only one fault: he’s a bit of a chat¬ 
terbox. So ever>' time he came back to Karachi from Lyallpur, 
he told about the conversations he’d had with Mujib and said 
it would be difficult to find him guilty'—Mujib had put things 



in such a convincing way as regards his respect for the unity of 
Pakistan and his devotion to Yahya Khan. Mujib never tired of 
repeating that Yahya Khan was a fine man, a great patriot, and 
that he had been led astray by me—the only one responsible 
for his arrest. This was confirmed to me by General Pirzada, 
to whom I said, “Give him to me and you’ll see that he’ll call 
me a fine man, a great patriot, and insult you.” Just what was 
to happen. 

O.F.: But he was convicted and sentenced. 

Z.A.B.: No. The special tribunal found him guilty and from then on 
it was up to Yahya Khan, as administrator of martial law, to 
decide on the sentence, which could have been five years or 
life imprisonment or the death penalty. Yahya decided 
nothing—the war had broken out and he had plenty of other 
things on his mind. 

O.F.: Mujib told me they had dug his grave. 

z.a.b.: Do you know what that grave was? An air-raid shelter. They 
had dug it all around the walls of the prison. Poor Mujib. 
Being so fearful, he mistakes everything for a death notice. But 
1 don’t believe that Yahya was thinking of killing him. On 
December 27, when I was sworn in as the new president of the 
Republic, I met with Yahya Khan. He was desperate, drunk, 
he looked like the portrait of Dorian Gray. He told me: “The 
greatest mistake of my life has been not to execute Mujib 
Rahman. Do it yourself, if you like.” 

O.F.: And you? 

Z.A.B. : I said that I wouldn’t, and after thinking it over, I got ready 
to free Mujib. Having been condemned by everyone for the 
supposed atrocities of the army, Pakistan needed some sym¬ 
pathy—I thought the act of clemency would get much sympa¬ 
thy. Besides I thought the gesture would accelerate the return 
of our war prisoners. So I immediately sent an order to Lyall- 
pur to bring Mujib to me in Rawalpindi. When the order ar¬ 
rived, Mujib got frightened. He began moaning that they’d 
come to take him out and execute him; he didn’t calm down 
even during the journey or when he entered the bungalow I’d 
put at his disposal. A beautiful bungalow for important guests. 
When I arrived with a radio, a television set, and a bundle of 
clothes, he assailed me: “What are you doing here?” I ex- 

Ali Bhutto 


plained I’d become president and he immediately changed his 
tone. He threw his arms around my neck, he told me this was 
the most wonderful news he’d ever had in his life, that God 
was always sending me to save him. . . . (The other time too 
I’d been the one to get him out.) Then just as I’d foreseen, he 
began attacking Yahya, pausing only to ask me if he could 
consider himself free. I saw him again twice before he went 
back to Dacca by way of London. And both times he took out 
his book of the Koran, he swore on the Koran that he’d keep 
up relations with West Pakistan. He swore it also on the plane, 
when I saw him off at three in the morning, and I almost suc¬ 
ceeded in being moved. He swore and embraced me, he 
thanked me, he repeated his eternal gratitude: “Don’t worry, 
Mr. President, I’ll be back soon. I want to know your beautiful 
country better, and you’ll see me again soon, soon.” 

O.F.: Are you ever sorry you freed him? 

z.a.b.: No, never. He’s a Pakistani like myself, whatever he may 
say. And more than once we’ve suffered the same accusations, 
the same persecutions—underneath it all there’s a bond be¬ 
tween us. I always remember him as I saw him one day in 
January, when he clutched my arm and sobbed and begged, 
“Save me, save me.” I feel genuine pity for him. Besides, poor 
Mujib, he won’t last long. Eight months, at most a year—then 
he’ll be swallowed up by the chaos he himself wanted. You 
see, Bangladesh today is a satellite of India. But it will soon 
become a satellite of Russia, and Mujib isn’t a communist. 
Even if he were to manage all right, which is most unlikely, at 
that point he’d find the Maoists on his back, who are the real 
victors in this war. He has them on his back already. 

Politically the Mukti Bahini count for nothing, lacking as 
they do any ideological preparation, any indoctrination, any 
discipline. Then socially speaking, they’re a disturbance—they 
only know how to fire in the air, frighten people, steal, yell Joi 
Bangla. And you can’t run a country by yelling Joi Bangla. 
The Bengali Maoists, on the other hand . . . well, they cer¬ 
tainly don’t represent a very refined product—at most they’ve 
read half of Mao’s little red book. But they're an articulate 
force and don’t let themselves be used by the Indians, and I 
don’t even think they’re against the unity of Pakistan. They’ll 



end by having the upper hand. Good Lord, it would take a ge¬ 
nius to cope with such complex and frightful problems—just 
imagine Mujib coping with them. And then that’s such an un¬ 
fortunate land. Hurricanes, floods, storms. One would say it’s 
born under an unlucky star, and let’s not forget it’s always 
been the dregs of the world. You should have seen Dacca in 
1947 and even in 1954! A dirty village where there weren’t 
even streets. Now that everything is destroyed, thanks also to 
the dynamite of the Mukti Bahini, Bangladesh . . . 

O.F.: I’m surprised you say Bangladesh. 

z.a.b.: Obviously 1 say it with anger and scorn. Obviously for me 
it’s still East Pakistan. But, rightly or wrongly, and even 
though it’s the result of a military action by the Indians, fifty 
countries have recognized it. I must accept it. I’m even ready 
to recognize it, if India gives us back our prisoners, if the mas¬ 
sacre of the Biharis ends, if the federalists aren’t persecuted. If 
we’re to reunite ourselves in a federation, we must first es¬ 
tablish diplomatic relations. And I think that within ten or fif¬ 
teen years Pakistan and Bangladesh can be reunited in a feder¬ 
ation. Can and should, otherwise who will fill the vacuum? 
West Bengal, which wants to separate from India? There’s 
nothing in common between the East Bengalis and the West 
Bengalis. Between us and the East Bengalis, on the other 
hand, there’s religion in common. The Partition of 1947 was a 
very good thing. 

O.F.: Very good! To create a country with two stumps two thousand 
kilometers apart and with India in the middle? 

z.a.b: Those two stumps stayed together for twenty-five years, de¬ 
spite all the mistakes that were made. A state isn’t only a terri¬ 
torial or geographical concept. When the flag is the same, the 
national anthem the same, the religion the same, distance is 
no problem. At the time when the Mongols unified India, the 
Muslims of this part took a hundred days to reach the other 
part. Now all they needed were two hours by air. Do you see 
what I mean? 

O.F. : No, Mr. President. I understand Indira Gandhi better when 
she says that the Partition of 1947 was wrong and that wars of 
religion are ridiculous in the 1970s. 

z.a.b.: Mrs. Gandhi has only one dream: to take over the whole 

Ali Bhutto 


subcontinent, to subjugate us. She’d like a confederation so 
as to make Pakistan disappear from the face of the earth, and 
that’s why she says we’re brothers, and so forth. We’re not 
brothers. We never have been. Our religions go too deep into 
our souls, into our ways of life. Our cultures are different, our 
attitudes are different. From the day they’re bom to the day 
they die, a Hindu and a Muslim are subject to laws and cus¬ 
toms that have no points of contact. Even their ways of eating 
and drinking are different. They’re two strong and irrecon¬ 
cilable faiths. It’s shown by the fact that neither of the two has 
ever succeeded in reaching a compromise with the other, a 
modus vivendi. Only dictatorial monarchies, foreign in¬ 
vasions, from the Mongols to the British, have succeeded in 
holding us together by a kind of Pax Romana. We’ve never ar¬ 
rived at a harmonious relationship. 

You see, the Hindus are not the mild creatures that Mrs. 
Gandhi would like you to think. They have respect for their 
sacred cows, but not for Muslims. They’ve always mistreated 
and humiliated us. I’ll never forget an episode that happened 
to me in 1944. I was on holiday with my parents in Kashmir. I 
was running up and down a hill, as boys do, and at a certain 
point I got very thirsty. So I went up to a man who was selling 
water and asked him for a drink. The man filled the cup, 
started to hand it to me, then stopped and said, “Are you a 
Hindu or a Muslim?” I hesitated to answer—I desperately 
wanted that water. Finally I said, “I’m a Muslim.” Then the 
man poured the water on the ground. Tell that to Mrs. 

O.F.: You two really can’t stand each other, can you? 

z.a.b. : I don’t even respect her. To me she’s a mediocre woman 
with a mediocre intelligence. There’s nothing great about her; 
only the country she governs is great. I mean, it’s that throne 
that makes her seem tall, though actually she’s very small. 
And also the name she bears. Believe me, if she were prime 
minister of Ceylon, she’d be nothing but another Mrs. Ban- 
daranaike. And if she were prime minister of Israel . . . 
Come now, I wouldn’t dare compare her to Golda Meir. 
Golda is far too superior. She has an acute mind, sound judg¬ 
ment, and she goes through much more difficult crises than 



those of Mrs. Gandhi. Also she came to power by her own tal¬ 
ent. Mrs. Bandaranaike, instead, got there by the simple fact 
of being Bandaranaike's widow, and Mrs. Gandhi by the sim¬ 
ple fact of being Nehru's daughter. Without having Nehru’s 
light. With all her saris, the red spot on her forehead, her little 
smile, she'll never succeed in impressing me. 

She's never impressed me, ever since the day I met her in 
London. We were both attending a lecture, and she was taking 
notes so insistently and pedantically that I said to her, “Are 
you taking notes or writing a thesis?" And speaking of theses, 
you know I can't believe she succeeded in getting that degree 
in history at Oxford. I completed the three-year course at Ox¬ 
ford in two years. And in three years she wasn't able to finish 
the course. 

O.F.: Aren’t you being a little excessive, a little unjust? Do you re¬ 
ally think she could last so long if she wasn't worth something? 
Or are you obliged to think she's worth nothing because she's 
a woman? 

z.a.b.: No, no. I have nothing against women as heads of state, 
though I don't think women make better heads of state than 
men. My opinion of Mrs. Gandhi is impersonal and objec¬ 
tive. It's not even influenced by the fact that she behaves so 
deplorably by not returning our war prisoners and not respect¬ 
ing the Geneva Convention. That’s how I've always seen her: 
a diligent drudge of a schoolgirl, a woman devoid of initiative 
and imagination. All right, she’s better today than when she 
was studying at Oxford or taking notes in London. Power has 
given her self-confidence and nothing succeeds like success. 
But it's a question of success out of proportion to her merits; if 
India and Pakistan were to become confederated countries, I d 
have no trouble in carrying off the post from Mrs. Gandhi. 
I'm not afraid of intellectual confrontations with her. Having 
said that, I'm ready to meet her when and where she likes. 
Even in New Delhi. Yes, I’m even ready to go to New Delhi, 
like Talleyrand after the Congress of Vienna. The only idea 
that bothers me is that of being escorted by an honor guard 
from the Indian army and physical contact with the lady her¬ 
self. It irritates me. God! Don't make me think of it. Tell me 
instead: what did Mrs. Gandhi say about me? 

Ali Bhutto 


O.F.: She told me you’re an unbalanced man, that today you say 
one thing and tomorrow another, that one never understands 
what’s on your mind. 

z.a.b.: Ah, yes? I’ll answer that right away. The only thing I accept 
from the philosopher John Locke is this statement: “Consis¬ 
tency is a virtue of small minds.” * In other words, I think a 
basic concept should remain firm but, within that basic con¬ 
cept, one should be able to move back and forth. Now to one 
pole, now to the other. An intellectual should never cling to a 
single and precise idea—he should be elastic. Otherwise he 
sinks into a monologue, into fanaticism. A politician, the 
same. Politics is movement per se—a politician should be 
mobile. He should sway now to right and now to left; he 
should come up with contradictions, doubts. He should 
change continually, test things, attack from every side so as to 
single out his opponent’s weak point and strike at it. Woe to 
him if he focuses immediately on his basic concept, woe if he 
reveals and crystallizes it. Woe if he blocks the maneuver by 
which to throw his opponent on the carpet. Apparent inconsis¬ 
tency is the prime virtue of the intelligent man and astute poli¬ 
tician. If Mrs. Gandhi doesn’t understand that, she doesn’t 
understand the beauty of her profession. Now her father un¬ 
derstood it. 

O.F.: Indira Gandhi says her father wasn’t a politician, he was a 

z.a.b.: Oh, Mrs. Gandhi is wrong about her father! Nehru instead 
was a great politician—she should have half her father’s talent! 
Look, even though he was against the principle of Pakistan, 
I’ve always admired that man. When I was young I was actu¬ 
ally enthralled by him. Only later did I understand that he was 
a spellbinder with many faults, vain, ruthless, and that he 
didn’t have the class of a Stalin or a Churchill or a Mao Tse- 
tung. And what else, what else did Mrs. Gandhi say? 

O.F.: She said it was you Pakistanis who started the war. 

z.a.b.: Ridiculous. Everyone knows they were the ones to attack us. 
November 26, on the eastern front. East Pakistan was perhaps 
not Pakistan? Let’s be serious. If someone invades Palermo, 

Actually it was Emerson who said it: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of 

little minds.” (Translator’s note.) 



don't you conclude that Italy has been attacked? If someone 
invades Marseilles, don't you conclude that France has been 
attacked? Mrs. Gandhi pretends to forget that our counterat¬ 
tack in Kashmir, disputed territory, took place only on De¬ 
cember 3. I remember seeing Yahya on November 29 and 
reproaching him for our failure to counterattack. "You're be¬ 
having as though nothing has happened in the east. By delay¬ 
ing action, you're playing India’s game, you’re making people 
believe that East Pakistan and West Pakistan aren't the same 
country,” I told him. But he didn't listen to me. Four times 
he changed his orders for a counterattack. The fourth time our 
officers and soldiers were beating their heads against the tanks 
in desperation. And Dacca? Let’s withdraw into Dacca, I said; 
we'll make a fortress out of it and hold out for ten months, a 
year—the whole world will be on our side. But he was only 
concerned that the Indians not conquer a little territory and 
plant the flag of Bangladesh. And when he ordered Niazi to 
surrender . . . God! I could have died a thousand times and 
felt better. I was in New York, I remember. He'd sent me 
there as a tourist and I’d found myself at that incredible session 
of the UN. . . . 

O.F.: And you’d made that scene. 

Z.A.B.: A real scene, I admit. But I was convulsed with rage, with 
disgust. The arrogance of the Indians. The fear shown by the 
great powers, who wanted only to placate India. I wasn’t able 
to control my passion, and I made that speech in which I told 
them all to go to hell. I wept too. Yes, I often weep. I always 
weep when I discover something disgraceful, unjust. I’m very 

O.F.: Emotional, unpredictable, complicated, and . . . much 
talked about. It seems to me the moment has come to take up 
your personality, Mr. President. Let’s talk a little about this 
man who is very rich and yet a socialist, lives like a Westerner 
and yet has two wives. . . . 

z.a.b.: There are many conflicts in me—I’m aware of that. I try to 
reconcile them, overcome them, but I don’t succeed and I 
remain this strange mixture of Asia and Europe. I have a 
layman’s education and a Muslim’s upbringing. My mind is 
Western and my soul Eastern. As for my two wives, what can 

Ali Bhutto 


I do about it? They married me off at thirteen, to my cousin. I 
was thirteen and she was twenty-three. I didn’t even know 
what it meant to have a wife, and when they tried to explain it 
to me, 1 went out of my mind with rage. With fury. 1 didn’t 
want a wife, I wanted to play cricket. I was very fond of 
cricket. To calm me down, they had to give me two new 
cricket bags. When the ceremony was over, I ran off to play 
cricket. There are so many things 1 must change in my coun¬ 
try! And I was fortunate. They married my playmate off at the 
age of eleven to a woman of thirty-two. He always said to me, 
“Lucky you!” 

When I fell in love with my second wife, I was twenty- 
three. She was also studying in England, and though she was 
an Iranian, that is, from a country where polygamy is the cus¬ 
tom, it was hard for me to persuade her to marry me. I didn’t 
have many arguments except for the two words, “So what, 
dammit!” No, the idea of divorcing my first wife never went 
through my head. Not only because she’s my cousin, but 
because I have a responsibility toward her. Her whole life has 
been ruined by this absurd marriage to a boy, by the absurd 
custom in which we’ve been raised. She lives in my house in 
Larkana; we see each other every so often. She’s almost always 
alone. She hasn’t even had children—my four children are 
born of my second marriage. I’ve spent little time with her—as 
soon as I was an adolescent I went to the West to study. A 
story of injustice. I’ll do everything I can to discourage po¬ 
lygamy—besides it causes no small economic problem. Often 
the wives are separated in different houses or cities, as in my 
case. And not everyone can afford it as I can. Though I’m not 
so rich as you say. 

O.F.: No? . . . 

z.a.b.: No. To you, to be rich means to be a duPont or a Rocke¬ 
feller. To us, it means much less. Here anyone who’s rich 
owns a lot of land, but actually he’s no richer than those Eu¬ 
ropean barons who own splendid crumbling villas and play the 
gigolo in order to live. Our land is dry and produces little. So 
let’s say that instead of rich, I’m relatively rich, that I live well, 
that my sister lives well, that my brother lived well, that we’ve 
been to good schools but have never wasted a penny. I’ve 



never been a playboy. When I was a student in America and 
at Oxford, I never bought a car. I’ve always handled money 
wisely, for instance in order to go to Europe to meet interest¬ 
ing people and buy books. If you take a look at my library, 
you’ll see where I put a good part of my money: in books. I 
have thousands of them, many of them old and beautiful— 
I’ve always immensely enjoyed reading. Like sports. Some 
people accuse me of being well dressed. It’s true. But not 
because I squander my money on clothes—because I’m clean. 

I love to bathe and change my clothes; I’ve never been able to 
stand Indian and Pakistani princes who are dirty and stink. I 
own beautiful and comfortable houses. That’s true too. But for 
a long time I didn’t even have air conditioning. I like to enter¬ 
tain, but never silly or stupid people. I know how to dance, 
but only because I like music and because I hate to be a wall¬ 
flower when others are dancing. Finally . . . 

O.F.: Finally you have the reputation of being a lady-killer, a Don 
Juan. Is it true, Mr. President? 

z.a.b.: That’s also very exaggerated. I’m a romantic—I don’t think 
you can be a politician without being romantic—and as a 
romantic I think there’s nothing so inspiring as a love affair. 
There’s nothing wrong with falling in love and conquering a 
woman’s heart—woe to men who don’t fall in love. You can 
even fall in love a hundred times, and I do fall in love. But 
I’m a very, very moral man. And I respect women. People 
think that Muslims don’t respect women. What a mistake. To 
respect and protect them is one of the first teachings of the 
prophet Mohammed. I, who don’t call myself a champion of 
physical violence, once whipped a man. I whipped him fero¬ 
ciously, till the blood came. Do you know why? Because he 
had raped a little girl. And I was blind with rage this morning, 
when I read that some hundred students had attacked and 
stripped some girl students on the beach in Karachi. Scoun¬ 
drels! I’ll make them subject to martial law. And I say some¬ 
thing else. If I were to ascertain that our soldiers really used vi¬ 
olence on the women of Bangladesh, I’d insist on being the 
one to try them and punish them. 

O.F.: Let’s go on to something else, Mr. President. Let’s go on to 

Ali Bhutto 


your Marxism and to how you can reconcile it with your privi¬ 
leges, even with your Muslim faith. 

z.a.b.: I call myself a Marxist in the economic sense; that is, I con¬ 
fine myself to accepting Marxist doctrine so far as it concerns 
economics. What I reject in Marxism are its dialectical in¬ 
terpretation of history, its theories of life, the question whether 
God exists or not. As a good Muslim, I believe in God. 
Rightly or wrongly, I believe—faith is something that either 
exists or doesn’t. If it does, it’s useless to discuss it. It’s in me, 
and I’m not ready to renounce it in the name of the ecclesias¬ 
tical or philosophical aspects of Marxism. At the same time 
I’m convinced that to call oneself a Marxist and call oneself a 
Muslim are two things that can go together—especially in an 
underdeveloped country like Pakistan where I don’t see any 
solution except scientific socialism. 

I said Pakistan—I’m not raising any banners for interna¬ 
tional crusades; I’m not sticking my nose in the affairs of 
others. 1 concentrate on the reality of my country and that’s 
all. No, not by a process of revolution—I recognize that. I 
would like to, since I can look you in the eye and swear to you 
I’m a revolutionary. But I can’t afford sudden and bloody revo¬ 
lutions. Pakistan wouldn’t be able to stand it; it would be a di¬ 
saster. So I must proceed with patience, by reforms, measures 
that will gradually lead to socialism—nationalizing when pos¬ 
sible, refraining from it when necessary, respecting the foreign 
capital of which we have need. I must take my time, be a 
surgeon who doesn’t plunge his knife too deeply into the fabric 
of society. This is a very sick society, and if it’s not to die 
under the knife, you have to operate with caution, waiting 
slowly for a wound to heal, for a reform to be consolidated. 
We’ve been asleep for so many centuries, we can’t violently 
wake ourselves up with an earthquake. Besides, even Lenin, in 
the beginning, stooped to compromises. 

O.F.: Mr. President, many people don’t believe you. They say 
you’re a demagogue seeking power and nothing else, that 
you’ll do anything to hold on to your power, that you’ll never 
give up your possessions. 

Z.A.B.: No? By the agrarian reforms I’ve made in these three 



months, my family has lost forty-five thousand acres of land. I 
personally have lost six to seven thousand. And I’ll lose still 
more, my children will lose still more. God is my witness that 
I’m not playing with socialism, that I don’t proceed slowly out 
of selfishness. I’ve felt no fear of giving up what I own ever 
since the day I read Marx. I can even tell you the time and 
place: Bombay, 1945. As for the accusation that I’m only out 
for power, well, this would be a good time to understand what 
we mean by the word power. By power I don’t mean the kind 
Yahya Khan had. By power I mean the kind you exercise to 
level mountains, make deserts bloom, build a society where 
people don’t die of hunger and humiliation. I have no evil 
platforms. I don’t want to become a dictator. But so far I can 
say that I’ll have to be very tough, even authoritarian. The 
broken windows I’m setting out to mend are often in splinters. 
I’ll have to throw away the splinters. And if I throw them away 
too carelessly, I won’t have a country, I’ll have a bazaar. 

Anyway look, you don’t go into politics just for the fun of it. 
You go into it to take power in your hands and keep it. Any¬ 
one who says the opposite is a liar. Politicians are always trying 
to make you believe that they’re good, moral, consistent. 
Don’t ever fall in their trap. There’s no such thing as a good, 
moral, consistent politician. Politics is give-and-take, as my fa¬ 
ther taught me when he said, “Never hit a man unless you’re 
ready to be hit twice by him.” T he rest is boy-scout stuff, and 
I’ve forgotten the boy-scout virtues ever since I went to school. 

O.F.: They say, Mr. President, you’re a great reader of books about 
Mussolini, Hitler, Napoleon. 

z.a.b: Of course. And also books about De Gaulle, Churchill, 
Stalin. Do you want to make me confess I’m a fascist? I’m not. 
A fascist is first of all an enemy of culture, and I’m an intellec¬ 
tual enamored of culture. A fascist is a man of the right, and 
I’m a man of the left. A fascist is a petit bourgeois , and I come 
from the aristocracy. To read about a person doesn’t mean to 
make him your hero. I’ve had some heroes, yes, but when I 
was a student. Heroes, you know, are like chewing gum—they 
get chewed, spit out, changed, and you like them especially 
when you’re young. Anyway, if you care to know whom I’ve 
chewed the longest, here they are: Genghis Khan, Alexander, 

Ali Bhutto 


Hannibal, Napoleon. Napoleon most of all. But I’ve also 
chewed a little of Mazzini, a little of Cavour, a little of Gari¬ 
baldi. And a lot of Rousseau. You see how many contra¬ 
dictions there are in me? 

O.F.: I see. And so, to try to understand you a little better, let me 
ask you who are the figures of our time to whom you've felt or 
feel close: those you’ve liked or who liked you the most. 

z.a.b.: One is Sukarno. He said I was cut from the same cloth. He 
worshiped me. And I worshiped him. He was an exceptional 
man despite his weaknesses—for instance his vulgarity with 
women. It’s neither necessary nor dignified continually to 
show your own virility, but he didn’t understand that. Further¬ 
more he didn’t even understand economics. The other is Nas¬ 
ser. Nasser too was a first-rate man, with Nasser too I got 
along very well. He loved me and I loved him. In 1966, when 
I was forced to leave the government, Nasser invited me to 
Egypt and received me with the honors of a head of state, then 
he said I could stay there as long as I needed. 

Then, let’s see . . . Stalin. Yes, Stalin. My respect for 
Stalin has always been deep, a gut feeling I’d say, just as much 
as my antipathy for Khrushchev. You may understand me bet¬ 
ter when I say I never liked Khrushchev, that I always thought 
him a braggart. Always swaggering, yelling, pointing his finger 
at ambassadors, drinking. . . . And always ready to give in to 
the Americans. He did a lot of harm to Asia, Khrushchev. 
And finally ... I know, you’re waiting for me to say some¬ 
thing about Mao Tse-tung. But what do you want me to say 
about a giant like Mao Tse-tung? It’s easier for me to talk 
about Chou En-lai. He’s the one I know better, the one I’ve 
talked and discussed things with longer. Endless discussions, 
from dawn to dusk, for days, at least once a year. It’s since 
1962 that I’ve been going to China and meeting Chou En-lai. 
And . . . him, simply, I admire him. 

O.F.: Mr. President, all these men have had to struggle a lot to gain 
power. But not you. 

z.a.b.: You’re wrong. It hasn’t been easy for me to get here. I’ve 
been put in prison, I’ve risked my life plenty of times. With 
Ayub Khan, with Yahya Khan. They tried to kill me by poi¬ 
soning my food, by shooting at me. Twice in 1968, once in 



1970. In Sanghar, two years ago, 1 was kept for an hour under 
the cross fire of assassins sent by Yahya Khan. One man died 
while shielding me, others were seriously wounded. . . . And 
let's not forget moral suffering; when you're born rich and 
become a socialist, no one believes you. Neither friends in 
your own circle, who in fact make fun of you, nor the poor, 
who aren't enlightened enough to believe in your sincerity. 
The hardest thing for me hasn't been to escape the bullets and 
the poison, it's been to get myself taken seriously by those who 
didn't believe me. The privileges in which I was born didn't 
put me on Aladdin's flying carpet. And if I hadn't had this 
vocation for politics . . . 

O.F.: And how did this vocation start, how was it manifested? 

z.a.b.: I've always had it, ever since I was a boy. But if we want to 
play at being psychoanalysts, we must say I owe it to my 
parents. My father was a brilliant politician—a pity he retired 
so very early, after having lost certain elections. He had a very 
high conception of politics, that of an aristocrat who's aristo¬ 
cratic to his finger tips, and he talked to me in such an in¬ 
spired way. He took me around Larkana, he showed me the 
ancient temples, the splendid houses, the vestiges of our civili¬ 
zation, and he said to me: “Look, politics is like building a 
temple, a house. Or else he said it was like writing music, or 
poetry. And he mentioned Brahms, Michelangelo. . . . My 
mother was different. She came from a poor family and was 
haunted by other people's poverty. She did nothing but repeat 
to me: “We must take care of the poor, we must help the poor, 
the poor shall inherit the earth," and so forth. 

When I went to America, her message had so sunk into my 
ears that I became a radical. I went to America to study at the 
University of California, where a great jurist of international law 
was teaching. I wanted to take my degree in international law. 
And that was the period of McCarthyism, of the communist 
witch-hunts—my choices were laid out. To get away from 
Sunset Boulevard, from the girls with red nail polish, I ran off 
to Maxwell Street and lived among the Negroes. A week, a 
month. I felt good with them—they were real, they knew how 
to laugh. And the day in San Diego when I wasn't able to get 
a hotel room because I have olive skin and looked like a Mex- 

Ali Bhutto 


ican . . . well, that helped. Then, from America, I went to 
England. And those were the years of Algeria, so I immedi¬ 
ately took the side of the Algerians. But not by shouting 
slogans in front of Number 10 Downing Street. Maybe be¬ 
cause I’m secretly a little shy, I’ve never liked to mix in the 
crowd and participate in turmoil. I’ve always preferred a dis¬ 
cussion by writing, a struggle by the game of politics. It’s more 
intelligent, more subtle, more refined. 

O.F.: One last question, Mr. President, and excuse the brutality of 
it. Do you think you can last? 

Z.A.B.: Let’s put it this way. I could be finished tomorrow, but 1 
think I’ll last longer than anyone else who’s governed Pakistan. 
First of all because I’m healthy and full of energy—I can 
work, as I do, even eighteen hours a day. Then because I’m 
young—I’m barely forty-four, ten years younger than Mrs. 
Gandhi. Finally because I know what I want. I’m the only 
leader in the Third World who has gone back into politics 
despite the opposition of two great powers—in 1966 the 
United States and the Soviet Union were both very happy to 
see me in trouble. And the reason I’ve been able to overcome 
that trouble is that I know the fundamental rule of this profes¬ 
sion. What is the rule? Well, in politics you sometimes have 
to pretend to be stupid and make others believe they’re the 
only intelligent ones. But to do this you have to have light and 
flexible fingers, and . . . Have you ever seen a bird sitting on 
its eggs in the nest? Well, a politician must have fairly light, 
fairly flexible fingers, to insinuate them under the bird and 
take away the eggs. One by one. Without the bird realizing it. 

Karachi , April 1972 


Willy Brandt 

It will be up to history to decide to what extent Willy Brandt was a 
great statesman and a great man. But it was already clear that as a 
chancellor he was the only large figure in Europe. Everyone liked 
him. Everyone believed him. And everyone recognized in him the 
leader of a new Germany, a Germany that no longer inspired 
hatred or fear: much as it might arouse envy. He still has much to 
his credit. Not for nothing did they give him the Nobel Peace 
Prize. But his chief credit lies in having made us understand that 
the word German does not mean Hitler. He fought against Hitler 
since the age of fourteen—“by words and fists.” He wrote against 
the Nazis, he came to blows with the Nazis, he fled from the 
Nazis—there is not the slightest stain on his democratic past. There 
was no need for him to kneel down in Warsaw. There was no need 
for him to read the psalm of forgiveness in Jerusalem. Still, he did 
so. And this to me seems no less significant than his Ostpolitik , his 
Europeanism, and his socialism, a humanitarian, liberal, modern 
socialism, as befits a man who rejects every shade of dogma. Fur¬ 
thermore, it was in this socialism that he grew up, became a jour¬ 
nalist, a writer, the mayor of Berlin, and always took his stand. Let 
us not forget that Willy Brandt was the only head of state who 
spoke out with the same clarity' and firmness against the Greek col¬ 
onels and against the Soviet functionaries w'ho are out to destroy 
their opponents. 


Willy Brandt 


His life has been exceptional from the moment of his birth, on 
December 18, 1913, in the city of Liibeck. His mother was a 
young, unmarried trade union worker. He never knew his father, 
and his father never acknowledged him. Only at about the age of 
thirteen did he hear his name, which sounded Swedish or Nor¬ 
wegian or Danish. In a book he writes, “The boy heard but was not 
interested. Or was he? An opaque veil extends over those years, 
gray as the fog in the port of Liibeck. Figures and faces merge like 
shadows that rise to the surface and disappear. ... It is hard for 
me to believe that that boy called Herbert Frahm was myself/’ 

He does not like to speak of his father. I was dumbfounded when 
he confessed he had always known who he was. “He was still alive 
after the end of the war. But not even then was I interested in 
meeting him.” And one should not forget that the stigma of “ille¬ 
gitimate son” has caused him no small trouble in his political ca¬ 
reer. His opponents have exploited it shamelessly even in election 
campaigns. Especially Adenauer. But though this casts a dark 
shadow over our image of Adenauer, it helps us to understand 
Brandt. One is often distinguished from others for having suffered 
pain and humiliation—great dreams, sometimes even success, are 
often born of hunger and unhappiness. Perhaps if as a child he had 
been dandled on a father’s knee, Willy Brandt today would not be 
Willy Brandt. 

He does not much resemble his fellow countrymen. For twelve 
years he was Norwegian, and he admits candidly, or rather with 
reckless sincerity, that he still has Norway in his blood. “When, 
little more than a boy, you escape to a country whose culture and 
language you absorb, you lose one homeland only to find another. 
For me Norway was a second homeland.” Is it still? The more you 
look at him and listen to him, the more you wonder where the 
German in him leaves off and the Norwegian begins. Or vice versa. 
He has a house in Norway and goes back there every year on vaca¬ 
tion. His closest friends are in Norway. It was in Norway that he 
met both his first wife and his second, and his children are thus 
half Norwegian. He wrote better in Norwegian than in German, it 
is said, and this is something else for which Adenauer attacked 
him, calling him an interloper, a foreigner. He looks on passports 
with indifference—I’d say with a shrug of his shoulders. And isn’t it 
extraordinary that a man so devoid of narrow-minded nationalism 



should represent the country that unleashed a world war in the 
name of nationalism? Brandt resumed his German citizenship only 
in 1946—to have chosen to do so honors the new Germany and 
the future Europe. I'm sure not to be mistaken when I say that in 
the final analysis he still represents Europe more than he does Ger¬ 
many, and, in that sense, his role isn't finished. 

What a sorrow to have seen him resigning because of a dirty spy 
who lived next to him as a secretary; what a bitter blow to have seen 
him giving up because of the even dirtier blackmail that developed 
around him. When he proudly left his nation's helm, all of pro¬ 
gressive Europe knew they had lost a battle; the defeat was not his 
alone. It was the defeat of all those who believe in peace joined 
with intelligence, freedom won with courage, and socialism 
achieved with patience. The only consolation is the thought that 
losing a battle is not losing a war. Men like him cannot be stopped; 
their seed has been sown. This man Brandt is not dead. 

The following interview took place in his office in the Bun- 
derkanzleramt on two occasions: Tuesday, August 28, and Mon¬ 
day, September 3. Seldom is an interview the portrait of a man in 
the way this one is. Not so much for what he says or doesn't say as 
for how he says what he does. He speaks in a precise, prolix, and 
severe manner. He almost never engages in remarks that might im¬ 
pair his dignity or makes admissions that would diminish his re¬ 
moteness. If you try to probe his soul more deeply, he withdraws 
courteously and becomes silent. I tried again and apin—it was 
useless. He opened the doors wide when I interrogated the politi¬ 
cian; he closed them when I sought the man. Never have I en¬ 
countered such modesty, such shyness. It is therefore hard for me 
to see him as others do—that is to say as a cheerful Teuton fond of 
women, wine, beer, and a good laugh. 1 can more easily identify 
him with the peasant of the fiord whom he describes in the inter¬ 
view. Tough, solid, hard as iron, and the enemy of unnecessary 
things. Even his politeness and the cordial way he receives you are 
devoid of anything unnecessary. A pity I wasn't able to talk to him 
alone. Present at the interview were his adviser Klaus Harpprecht, 
and the head of his press office, while a stenographer not in my 
employ to take notes operated a tape recorder placed next to mine. 
It seemed like a summit meeting, a council of state. It was he who 

Willy Brandt 


wanted it this way. And, though at first it annoyed me, I was soon 
filled with respect. What a consolation to be among people who do 
things seriously. 

ORIANA fallaci: Frankly I don’t know where to begin, Chancellor 
Brandt. I have so many things to ask you, including the story 
of your name, which is not the one you were born with. T hat 
was Herbert Frahm, and . . . 

willy BRANDT: Yes, I started using the name Willy Brandt at the 
beginning of 1933—before leaving Germany and after the 
Nazis had come to power. I chose it as a nom de guerre with 
which to devote myself to clandestine activity against Hitler. 
But it was under that name that I went abroad, when I was 
nineteen. Under that name I began writing for the newspapers 
and publishing my books, under that name I went into politics 
and became an adult and came back to Germany at the end of 
the war. Everything is tied up with that name, and I never 
thought of taking back the one 1 was born with. 

O.F.: Besides it was as Willy Brandt that you got married and be¬ 
came a Norwegian citizen. There, maybe that’s where we 
should start. I mean the fact that for years you had been a citi¬ 
zen of another country. Except for Jews, there weren’t many 
Germans who left Hitler’s Germany. 

w.B. : No, actually there were quite a few. If you take my own city, 
Liibeck, as an example, you’ll find there were many who went 
away. And it goes without saying that almost all of them were 
older than I. Why did I leave Germany? Because if I’d stayed, 
I would have been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. 
At first I didn’t have much chance of getting out. Even if I 
hadn’t become an expatriate, I would have had to leave 
Liibeck. But not even by leaving Liibeck would I have been 
able to go to the university, and this is one contributing factor 
to my going away. When I’d finished school, I’d started work¬ 
ing as a broker’s agent, and it was interesting work for a year. 
But I wanted to study history, and in Hitler’s Germany it was 
no longer possible to study history. So as soon as I got the 
chance . . . 

A man who belonged to my group was supposed to escape 



to Norway and open an office there to take care of some of the 
problems connected with our resistance movement. It was all 
arranged for a fishing boat to take him across, leaving from a 
place not far from the house where I was living. I had to help 
and I did so, but all the same the man didn’t get away. He was 
arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Then my Berlin 
friends asked me if I wanted to go in his place. And I ac¬ 
cepted. I had no idea it would mean staying away so long. 
Many people thought that Nazism wouldn’t last. They said 
twelve months, at most four years. I didn’t belong to the ranks 
of the optimists, but I deluded myself into thinking that it 
wouldn’t last longer than the First World War. Instead it 
lasted twelve years. 

O.F.: That’s just it, those twelve years you spent in Scandinavia— 
for which your opponents have often reproached you. So let 
me ask you this question: Are you sorry not to have partici¬ 
pated directly, I mean in Germany itself, in the struggle 
against Nazism? 

w.B.: I showed, then and later, that I was willing to risk my life 
whenever necessary. And even when it wasn’t necessary. I 
came back secretly to Hitler’s Germany. I stayed several 
months, before escaping again because they were about to 
catch me. I went to Sweden, and to Norway, which was oc¬ 
cupied by Hitler. So I’ve taken my risks. And looking at your 
question from a rational standpoint, I’d say if I’d stayed in 
Germany instead of expatriating myself, I probably wouldn’t 
have had the same opportunities to develop and prepare myself 
for what I did in Berlin or later. I mean especially my Euro¬ 
pean and international experiences. To be sure, you pay a 
price for everything. And the price I had to pay was quite dif¬ 
ferent from that paid by the majority of my countrymen. It 
was the price of going away. Yes, it’s true that to some people 
that seemed a strange way of paying, and by this judgment 
they supplied my opponents with the opportunity' to start a 
campaign against me. But I say to such people that it’s just as 
strange that so many Germans identify with me and have con¬ 
fidence in me. Did I say strange? I should have said wonder¬ 
ful. It’s a wonderful thing that so many Germans have con- 

Willy Brandt 215 

fidence in a man whose life has been different from theirs. 
Not better. Different. 

O.F.: Chancellor Brandt, I assume that in speaking of the price you 
paid you're also referring to the fact of being deprived of your 
German citizenship after your expatriation. Was it painful for 
you to lose your German citizenship and take on that of Nor¬ 

w.B.: No. 

O.F.: Why? Did you already like Norway so much? 

w.B.: Yes. I considered it a second homeland. Because if one goes 
abroad as a young man and lands in a country where one feels 
at home and learns to speak the language well ... 1 learned 
Norwegian very quickly, and I learned it well. I've said many 
times that I wrote Norwegian much better than I wrote Ger¬ 
man. And that w'as true, even if today it’s not true any more. 
Besides, when the country that takes you in becomes a place 
where you make friends, when you absorb its culture to the 
roots, when all this is easy for you because you come from the 
Baltic . . . well, you feel that this separates you from your 
countrymen, but you also feel enriched by something you or¬ 
dinarily wouldn’t have had. Do I make myself clear? I mean 
you begin by losing one country and end by finding another. 
Nor is this something I’m discovering today, since I’ve ahvays 
admitted it to be true. During the war I wrote in the preface of 
a book published in Sweden, “I work simultaneously for a free 
Norway and a democratic Germany. This means a Europe 
where Europeans can live.” Anyway, to take on Norwegian 
citizenship for me didn’t mean giving up Germany. Or I 
should say my conception of Germany. 

O.F.: Then let me reverse my previous question. Was it painful for 
you to lose your Norwegian citizenship in order to get back 
your German? 

w'.b.: No. There are countries that don’t confront you w ith such a 
choice. If I’d become an American citizen, I wouldn’t have 
been able to hand back my passport, and at most I would have 
had to keep both nationalities In Norway that doesn’t happen 
You’re either a Norwegian citizen or you’re not. So I turned 
in my Norwegian passport without any fuss, knowing full well 

2 l6 


that a passport has nothing to do with your attitudes or ties. I 
knew Td keep going back to Norway, to see my friends and 
speak the language, and that in short my ties there wouldn’t be 
broken just because of a passport. Many people have a passport 
that doesn’t correspond to their nationality, and if you were to 
ask me, “So is it important to have a passport?” I’d answer, it’s 
important primarily for crossing frontiers but the question of 
documents is often overrated. National identity is something 

O.F.: So it was a search for national identity, for your mother coun¬ 
try, that brought you back to Berlin after the war? 

w.B.: No. I came back to Germany as a journalist, in the fall of 
1945 and later in 1946. I came back to cover the Nuremberg 
trials and see a little of the country. I’d been asked to take over 
the editorship of a newspaper or news service in Germany, but 
nothing came of it. Then my good friend Halvard Lange, at 
that time the Norwegian foreign minister, had said to me, “If 
you don’t go back to Germany within a year, why don’t you 
join my ministry and go to Paris as part of the Norwegian em¬ 
bassy?” But just as I was about to accept, he changed his 
mind. “The prime minister and I think it would be better if 
you went to Berlin as a press attache, with the job of supplying 
the Norwegian government with political information and 
evaluations.” That’s how it happened. And obviously the fact 
of my going to Berlin brought this process of identification to a 
head. Or rather, it obviously brought it to a head much sooner 
than whatever w'ould have happened had 1 gone to Paris. Had 
I gone to Paris, I’d probably have joined some international 
organization. And, at least for a few r years . . . 

O.F.: . . . you would have gone on being a Norwegian citizen. 

w.B. : Well, yes. At least for a while anyway. Later perhaps no. In 
fact, if Pd waited a little longer, there wouldn’t even have been 
the need for me to request German citizenship again. By the 
terms of the Constitution of 1949, all I would have had to do 
was present myself in some office and say, “I’m here to regain 
the nationality that the Nazis took away from me.” I, on the 
other hand, asked to become a German citizen again before 
there existed a new German state—in the spring of 1948. Yes 
. . . just imagine, the government of Schleswig-Holstein re- 

Willy Brandt 


stored my nationality on a sheet of paper that still had the 
swastika printed on it! Yes, yes! They were so poor they didn’t 
even have new official forms. They had to obliterate the swas¬ 
tika by scribbling over it in ink. I still have that document at 
home. I keep it as a souvenir of the way I went back to being a 
German citizen. 

O.F.: That’s amusing. But I can’t believe that what brought you 
back to Germany was only chance and not sentiment. 

w.B. : Nevertheless it’s true. It wasn’t a sentimental thing. No. I re¬ 
turned to Berlin for the simple reason that Berlin was interest¬ 
ing. It was the center of the conflict between East and West. It 
was the place to be. That this then accelerated my process of 
identification is another matter. And I don’t mean only a pro¬ 
cess of political identification—I mean a process of identifica¬ 
tion with people living in poverty, in defeat. Berlin was a pile 
of ruins, but among those ruins the best qualities of the people 
came out. Yes, it’s a phenomenon that often happens in ad¬ 
verse times, but it’s always surprising. Oh, the morale of the 
Berliners was never so high as in the first postwar years. Even 
during the blockade it was never to be so high. And so my pro¬ 
cess of identification . . . 

O.F.: But what do you mean by identification? What they call one’s 

w.B.: No. It wasn’t the country that drew me back. It was the case 
of a people who, having passed through dictatorship and war 
and destruction, were trying to rebuild for themselves a life 
based on freedom. Yes, it was this that induced me to become 
a German again. It was the fantastic will to work that was in 
each of them, it was that capacity to accomplish something, 
that desire to help one another. ... A desire we’ve lost by 
becoming rich. ... It was in the air, like a feeling that every¬ 
one was sticking together to do something—despite the eco¬ 
nomic miser> r . Do you see what I mean? A question of human 
and moral values rather than a nationalistic fact. The more I 
think of it, the more I’m convinced it was those years in Berlin 
that implanted in me the idea of Europe. Or rather of the fu¬ 
ture of Europe. 

O.F.: I keep wondering, Chancellor Brandt, if deep in your heart, 
or rather your mind, you’re not more European than German. 


W.B.: Well ... It would be too much to expect a German chan¬ 
cellor who’s almost sixty years old to admit to that. Especially 
knowing that Europe hasn’t moved as far as it should have. 
No, you can’t ask me to feel and behave more like a European 
than a German. One shouldn’t even ask me to give that im¬ 
pression. So let’s say I try to be a good European when I as¬ 
sume the responsibilities of a German. To answer your ques¬ 
tion: no, I’m German. 

O.F.: I see. But then—and I’m thinking of your visit to the Warsaw 
ghetto—let me ask you: To what extent does the guilt complex 
that your generation carries along with the word German 
weigh on you? 

w.B. : I make a distinction between guilt and responsibility. I don’t 
feel guilty myself, and I think it’s neither just nor correct to at¬ 
tribute such a guilt complex to my people or my generation. 
Guilt is something to be imputed to an individual—never to a 
people or a generation. Responsibility is something else. And 
even though I had left Germany very early, even though I’d 
never been a supporter of Hitler—to put it mildly—I can’t 
exclude myself from a certain responsibility. Or corespon¬ 
sibility. Yes, even if I'd dissociated myself from my people, I’d 
still feel coresponsible for the advent of Hitler. In fact, we 
must ask ourselves: why did he take power? And we can only 
answer: not only because millions of people were stupid 
enough to follow him, but also because the others were in¬ 
capable of stopping him. Of course, I was young at that time. 
And yet I too belong to that group of people who were incapa¬ 
ble of stopping him. 

In the life of a people, the crucial moment takes place when 
the people allow power to end up in the hands of criminals. 
And also when a people, having the opportunity, don’t use it 
to maintain the conditions necessary for a responsible govern¬ 
ment. Because afterward you can’t do anything. Afterward it 
becomes more and more difficult to throw out the criminals 
who have taken power. In short, as I see it, coresponsibility 
begins before and ends after. And even young people, unfortu¬ 
nately, find this coresponsibility on their shoulders. Not to the 
same degree as their fathers, but . . . You mentioned War¬ 

saw . 

Willy Brandt 


O.F.: Why did you kneel down in Warsaw, Chancellor Brandt? 

w.b. : I didn’t kneel because I had any guilt to confess, but because 
I wanted to identify myself with my people. I mean with the 
people from whom those who had committed such terrible 
things had emerged. That gesture wasn’t only directed at the 
Poles. It was also directed at the Germans. Anyone who thinks 
I was only appealing to the victims of Nazism and their fami¬ 
lies is mistaken. I was also and primarily appealing to my own 
people. Because many of them, too many, have the need not 
to feel alone and to know we must bear this burden together. 

O.F.: Chancellor Brandt, did you decide on that gesture on the spur 
of the moment, or had you already thought of it before? 

w.b.: I hadn’t thought of it before, but how can we know what our 
subconscious may have in mind? The idea was surely in my 
subconscious already, because, as I remember, I woke up that 
morning with the strange sensation that I wasn’t just going to 
place a wreath of flowers and let it go at that. I saw intuitively 
that something else would happen. Even though I didn’t know 
what. Then suddenly I felt the need to throw myself on my 

O.F.: And at Yad Vashem, during your last trip to Israel? Your ges¬ 
ture at Yad Vashem couldn’t have been decided on at the last 

w.b.: You’re right. Before going to Israel, I thought for a long time 
about what I could do. I’d heard that they call Yad Vashem 
the place of truth, the terrible truth beyond everything that the 
human mind can imagine. And I wanted to give some sub¬ 
stance to this truth, because . . . Auschwitz showed that hell 
on earth exists. It seems to me I had already said it in Warsaw. 
And I think I’ve already said that when I was in Sweden I 
knew what was happening in Germany. I knew about it before 
most of those who were living in or outside of Germany. 

So while I was getting ready for my trip to Israel, that sense 
of coresponsibility that I tried to explain to you before came 
over me again. And, as in Warsaw, 1 told myself that I 
wouldn’t be able to limit myself to placing a wreath of flowers 
with a stony or emotional expression on my face. Once I was 
confronted by what had happened, I would have to react in 
some way to my own impotence. Do you see? I wanted to do 



something, I didn’t want to remain passive. I kept telling my¬ 
self: there must really be some gesture I can make for the good 
of the Germans and the Jews, a gesture to open the way to the 
future. Oh, 1 don’t want to speak lightly of reconcili¬ 
ation—that doesn’t depend on me. But the solution I found 
seemed to me the right one because we have something quite 
important in common with the Jewish people—the Bible. Or 
at least the Old Testament. That’s why I decided to read Psalm 
103, verses 7 to 16: They will flee at thy threats; they will be 
terrified at the sound of thy voice. ... I decided to read it in 
German, in the language of Martin Luther. Certain expres¬ 
sions were hard to understand, however. Especially for young 
people. So, while flying to Tel Aviv, 1 studied the text and 
compared Martin Luther’s translation with the Jewish version 
of the same words in German. I kept almost all of Martin 
Luther’s poetic expressions and added a few phrases from the 
Hebrew Bible. I believe the Israelis understood what I wanted 
to do. And for this I’ll always be grateful to them. 

O.F.: You were very eager to make that trip to Israel, weren’t you? 
Perhaps more than the trip to Warsaw. 

W.B.: It was a question of two different things, since I knew nobody 
in Warsaw and everything was new to me. On the other hand, 
I’d already been to Israel in 1960 as mayor of Berlin; there I’d 
even met Ben-Gurion and Eshkol. Then I had seen Golda 
Meir several times at international socialist party congresses. 
But . . . it’s true, I was eager to make the trip last June 
because I was going as the representative of my nation and 
people. In short, not as Willy Brandt but as the representative 
of a new Germany. To put it better, Jerusalem was not my 
first or my last confrontation with the past. In fact, I’ll also go 
to Lidice when I visit Czechoslovakia. Jerusalem, however, 
was the most important stop—the one that most completely 
expressed our dark days. It represented the recognition of our 
responsibilities as Germans; it reminded us that nothing of 
what we did should be forgotten or swept under the rug. No, it 
shouldn't. ... It shouldn't. . . . Not that there’s anything 
left to confess, by now. By now everything is known. But to 
recognize our responsibilities . . . Well, that not only serves 

Willy Brandt 


to cleanse our conscience but helps us to live together. Jews, 
Poles, Germans. Since we must live together. 

O.F.: Still Golda Meir, when I interviewed her last November, told 
me she'd never set foot in Germany. 

w.B.: I know. She's said it to others too. And I can't blame her for 
that. Nevertheless I've invited her officially, she's accepted 
both privately and in public, and I hope she'll come. I really 
do. I'm sure she's ready to come, and I like to think my visit to 
Israel may have helped to make the idea of setting foot in Ger¬ 
many a little easier for her. Golda is a great woman. A fas¬ 
cinating woman. A woman of almost Biblical stature. And ev¬ 
eryone knows her qualities, which only old-fashioned people 
call masculine. Her strength of steel, for example, her shrewd¬ 
ness. Those are neither masculine nor feminine gifts—they're 
just gifts, that's all. And then Golda has such human warmth. 

. . . I say she'll come. 

O.F.: That faith gives a very good picture of Willy Brandt. And 
speaking of faith, I'd like to take up again a subject we've 
barely touched on but which one can't avoid going into with 
you: Europe. Chancellor Brandt, you sounded discouraged 
when you referred to it a little while ago. Don’t you ever have 
the suspicion that a united Europe is a utopia? 

w.B.: No. A united Europe can be achieved. It's being achieved. 
Certainly it hasn’t developed and won't develop in the way our 
American friends thought after the Second World War when 
they spoke of a United States of Europe. The Americans made 
the mistake of comparing the possibilities for unifying Europe 
with what had happened in the United States. A meaningless 
comparison. The United States is a melting pot whose realities 
are too different from ours, and to create Europe is another 
thing entirely. To create Europe means to maintain the values 
of national identity and then build over them the structure of a 
European government. And even though it’s very slow, unfor¬ 
tunately, even though unfortunately it has no political sex ap¬ 
peal, even though it involves the obstacles of bureaucratic 
procedures, isn't that perhaps what’s happening? Don’t people 
move freely in Europe? Isn’t there a level of trade such as we 
never had before in Europe? But of course Europe is being 



achieved! I’m more and more convinced of it whenever I com¬ 
pare the European Community of today with the one four or 
five years ago. 

O.F.: But the Europe we call Europe is a very tiny Europe, Chan¬ 
cellor Brandt! It's not even half of Europe! 

w.B.: Look, 1 would have been overjoyed if we’d been able to build 
a United States of Europe. If I myself could choose between a 
Europe entirely unified and a part of Europe unified, needless 
to say I’d choose the first. But it’s not possible—we’re not in 
the position to be able to choose between an imperfect solu¬ 
tion and a solution that’s more than perfect. We must work 
with a Europe divided in two, and even in three. We must 
work with a Western Europe, that is, one capable of moving 
toward a structure of common government. Then, through 
the policy of detente that has already begun, we must increase 
communication between Eastern Europe and Western 
Europe—despite the differences that exist between their social 
system and ours, between their political structure and ours. 
Oh, if someone were to offer me a way of uniting something 
more than Western Europe, I’d say, fine, wonderful, thank 
you. But it’s not possible, it’s not possible. Besides, there’s that 
existing fact that I call the third dimension: Europe plus the 
United States. The United States as a part of Europe in the 
area of security. . . . 

O.F.: So you’re not thinking of a neutral Europe, capable of repre¬ 
senting an equilibrium between the two great powers? 

w.B.: No. I wouldn’t look on Europe as a force placed between the 
two world powers. Aside from the fact that when one speaks of 
world powers, one should speak not of two but of three, and 
then one would have to speak of Europe as a fourth power, 
and add a fifth—Japan. . . . Aside from the fact that to speak 
of Europe as a fourth power wouldn’t be exact, since if a 
united Europe were to begin trading, it would become the 
number one commercial power in the world. . . . No, I don’t 
want to give the impression of aiming at a Europe that would 
maintain a policy of neutrality vis-a-vis the two blocs repre¬ 
sented by America and the Soviet Union. Naturally I want a 
different relationship with the United States than the one with 
the Soviet Union. With the United States I want a part- 

Willy Brandt 


nership, even though at the same time I want an independent 
policy. Furthermore I believe that even the United States 
would like to see us behave in a more mature way than we 
have so far. 

O.F.: But then . . . the reunification of Germany? Things being as 
they are, do you think you'll see the reunification of Ger¬ 

w.B.: No. 1 don't think so. Look, I’ll soon be sixty years old, as I’ve 
already told you. And I don't expect to become a Methuselah. 
Maybe, if I did expect to become a Methuselah, my answer 
would be more positive. Because I'd have to arrive at least at 
the age of 130, like certain old people in the Caucasus, to see 
the reunification of Germany. Not even within twenty or fifty 
years do I anticipate an isolated answer to the German prob¬ 
lem. No, I can't even imagine an isolated answer to the Ger¬ 
man problem. I think a change in relations between the two 
Germanys will only come about as a result of a change in rela¬ 
tions between the two Europes. So look, I’m not giving you an 
optimistic answer, but I give you an answer that includes the 
possibility that Europe may resolve the division between the 
two Germanys. But mark my words: if that should happen, I 
don't mean to say that we’ll go back to forming a single Ger¬ 
man state. I mean to say the people of the two Germanys will 
decide to live a different relationship, under a roof different 
from the one they've lived under since the end of the Second 
World War. 

O.F.: Chancellor Brandt, when you speak of Western Europe, 
you're obviously referring to a politically unified Europe. But 
what does this expression mean to you? 

w.B.: It means three things. Because there are three things to be 
done. The first is economic integration. But that's already 
going on, since I think w'e’re heading toward a common mon¬ 
etary system. Not in the sense that we must necessarily use the 
same money, but in the sense that there’ll be a stable rela¬ 
tionship among our currencies. Yes, yes, in some way well ar¬ 
rive at some form of a common European bank; in some way 
we’ll arrive at economic and monetary union. 

The second thing is what I call European social union. And 
when I say “social union," I’m not referring only to social pol- 



icy in the old sense of the word, the sense used by trade 
unionists, and so forth. That too is important, but by social 
union I mean what a modern slogan called the “quality of 
life.” In other words, I'm not referring only to an increase in 
productivity, since an increase in productivity is not a goal in 
itself. I’m referring to problems of the environment, working 
conditions, education. . . . One has to be fairly ambitious to 
bring about within ten years a unified Western Europe that 
socially will be the most progressive part of the world. Ten 
years are sufficient; in ten years we can do it. And then of 
course well be able to arrive at a common political structure, 
since that cannot exist without economic integration and so¬ 
cial union. The third thing is to maintain our national identi¬ 
ties. It would be a misfortune to give them up. 

O.F.: Yes, but in this splendid Western Europe that you’re ambi¬ 
tiously aiming at, what do we do with nondemocratic coun¬ 
tries? What do we do, for example, with Spain and Greece? 

W.B.: It’s clear that no country can become a member of the Euro¬ 
pean Community if it’s not based on the institutions we have. 
Namely a government or parliament elected by the people, 
trade unions, and so forth. It’s clear that if a country doesn’t 
observe some minimum respect for the Declaration of Human 
Rights, it can’t become part of our Europe. So it’s a big prob¬ 
lem. All the more so in that I’ve learned from experience that 
you almost never succeed in bringing freedom back in a 
country that’s lost it. If you do succeed, it’s almost always the 
result of a war—it seldom happens that a nation oppressed by 
dictatorship finds a way to liberate itself without a war. The 
speeches and actions of others help even less in liberating it. 
Boycotting its products, for example. . . . Refusing to go 
there on vacation. ... It doesn’t do any good. But history 
always has new developments up its sleeve, and sometimes sat¬ 
isfying ones. 

Let’s take Spain. I knew Spain during the Civil War, when 
as a young man I went there as a journalist. I stayed there 
about six months, especially in Barcelona and Catalonia, and 
I remember the tremendous hatred that divided the two sides. 
I remember the incredible poverty of the country people. 
Since then I’ve been back only once, to spend a vacation on 

Willy Brandt 


an island, and another time for half a day. That was when I 
went to the United States by ship. I took the ship from Naples 
and we stopped for half a day in Malaga, where I walked 
around a little. Well . . . not that you could tell much from 
the place, but what 1 saw seemed to me an extraordinary de¬ 
velopment. It was no longer the Spain I had known. So I 
wouldn’t be surprised if, within a generation, Spain were to 
transform itself and enter into the European Community. It 
could happen by a process of evolution. 

O.F.: And Greece? 

w.B.: Oh, the case of Greece is more complicated. When we talk 
about Greece, we mustn’t forget that things are not so simple 
as our Greek friends insist when they state that up until 1967 
there was a splendid democracy in Greece—a splendid democ¬ 
racy that all of a sudden became a military dictatorship. I 
visited Greece in 1960, when Karamanlis was prime minister, 
and I met Kanellopoulos, who today is very courageously in 
the opposition. Ah, yes—a wonderful man, Kanellopoulos. 
With strong ties to German culture as well. We’ve always kept 
in touch during these years when he’s had to face so many dif¬ 
ficulties. . . . But the fact is that my press conference in 
Athens was much different from those I’d held in other parts 
of the world. Rather similar, I’d say, to those I’d had in coun¬ 
tries of limited democracy. So it’s not easy to foresee what will 
happen in Greece. All I can hope is that the forces of freedom 
and the future will be strong enough in that country. Because, 
if they are, there’s no doubt that they’ll find many friends 
abroad. The fact remains, however, that you don’t regain de¬ 
mocracy by arms. Arms serve only in the case of war. But I 
think that the Greek people, if they want to, can regain their 
freedom. They can if some special situation arises. Even with¬ 
out arms. And then even the help that their friends abroad are 
able to give them will be useful. 

O.F.: Good. And now let’s go back to Willy Brandt. We’ve been 
getting a little far from Willy Brandt, and . . . Chancellor, I 
can’t help but think of you as a journalist. You were a journal¬ 
ist for so long. What was journalism for you? 

w.B.: Look, for me it was simply a way to earn a living. Writing has 
always been easy for me—I began writing when I went to 



school. To pay for my studies, I worked for a newspaper in 
Lu'beck, and in fact when I finished school, they wrote on my 
diploma, “He will become a journalist/' 1 didn't want them to 
write “journalist”; I wanted them to write “Z eitungs- 
Schreiber ”—writer for newspapers. I was a young left-wing so¬ 
cialist and I objected to the use of foreign words in the Ger¬ 
man language. But they didn't listen to me and wrote “jour¬ 
nalist.” Anyway 1 never had any doubts, from the time I was a 
boy, that someday I'd become a journalist. Even the study of 
history' was something I wanted to undertake in order to be¬ 
come a journalist. And when I thought of how I should orga¬ 
nize my life, I always came to that conclusion. My dream was 
to be the editor of a Liibeck daily and later a deputy to the 
Reichstag in Berlin. 

O.F. : So your final goal was politics, not journalism. 

w.b.: Let’s say political journalism plus politics. 

O.F. : Politics or power? Somewhere I’ve read a sentence you're sup¬ 
posed to have said when you were mayor of Berlin: “Power is 
the only way to do something sensible.” 

w.b. : I don't remember exactly, but it must have been something 
like that. I said it during a friendly argument with my wife, 
who was afraid that power was too important a responsibility. 
Power ... I don't like the word power. It’s a word that gives 
rise to misunderstandings. In my case, I'd prefer the word in¬ 
fluence. But let’s go ahead and say power—making it clear 
that we mean it in the good sense. Well, it's obvious that to 
achieve something, you must be in the position to achieve 
something. And not necessarily the position of head of state, 
though you can do a lot as head of state. Provided . . . Pro¬ 
vided you remain so for a certain period of time. 

O.F.: You’ve remained so, and you're prepared to stay there for a 
good period of time. So I ask you: what is, what was your goal? 
Why did you want power? 

w.b. : Inside the country, to achieve a more modern way of life. I 
mean a higher level of democratization and social equilib¬ 
rium. I said social equilibrium, not equality. Outside, to show 
that my nation could have good neighborly relations—both 
with East and West. Perhaps I might say I was interested in 
giving Germany a foreign policy because Germany had no 

Willy Brandt 


foreign policy. But it’s bad to put it that way, since it doesn't 
explain that our foreign policy was still first of all that of a 
divided Germany and secondly of the Germany tom apart by 
the occupation. So it would be more correct to say 1 was anx¬ 
ious to have Germany settled in a European context, and with 
neighborly relations at home and abroad. 

O.F. : I suppose you’re referring first of all to your Ostpolitik , the 
opening toward the East. Chancellor Brandt, are you satisfied 
with what you've achieved by your Ostpolitik? 
w.B.: Almost. When I look back, I find two or three points that I 
might have handled differently. But not too differently. All in 
all I'm fairly happy to tell myself that I hope I won’t feel too 
self-satisfied as an old man. Oh, mind you, there’s never a sit¬ 
uation where you can tell yourself I-couldn’t-have-done-bet- 
ter. Besides, a person seldom acts alone—what he does is gen¬ 
erally the result of a vast process in which he finds himself 
involved. Still . . . before you arrived, I was here with my 
ambassador to the United Nations, and he was telling me 
some very flattering things about his contacts with the other 
ambassadors. Including those from Eastern Europe. They 
think I've done a lot and intend to give me a good reception 
during my upcoming trip to New York. Well, that pleased 
me. I mean I was very glad to know that they’re not going to 
throw stones at me. 

O.F. : They didn’t throw stones at you even in Erfurt, when you 
went to East Germany. How did you feel in front of that 
crowd that applauded you so enthusiastically? 
w.B.: I was very moved but also frightened. Frightened for them, 
for the risks they were taking by letting themselves go like that. 
I did nothing but make signs to them so they wouldn’t get too 
excited. It was dangerous for them. 

O.F.: That entitles me to ask you a question I’d like to put to every' 
man or woman in power. Do you think that history is changed 
because one individual comes along instead of another? In 
other words, do you think that the Germany of today would be 
the same if Willy Brandt hadn’t turned up? 
w.B.: I think that individuals play a definite role in history. But I 
also think that it’s situations that make one talent emerge in¬ 
stead of another. A talent that already existed, obviously. I’ll 



give you an example. If the Second World War hadn’t broken 
out in 1939, if the Allies hadn’t been so unprepared, if after 
the invasion of Norway and Denmark Hitler hadn’t launched 
his attack on Holland, Belgium, and France, what would have 
become of Winston Churchill? Would he have been an ex¬ 
ceptional man all the same, or wouldn’t he rather have been a 
somewhat querulous outsider with the habit of raising his 
voice? What happened happened, and at the critical moment, 
since Churchill was not too old, the British were able to rally 
around him and have the advantage of his immense ability. 
But what does this mean? Does it mean that Churchill’s im¬ 
portance would have been the same even if those events had 
happened five years later, or does it mean that Churchill’s im¬ 
portance would have been less if those events had happened 
five years later? No, it’s not easy to know if, finding ourselves 
in a certain situation, we’re doing things that no one else 
would be able to do. De Gaulle did things no one else in 
France could have done. And still I say that a situation must 
exist, and certain individuals must exist at the same moment 
as that situation. If the individual and the situation meet, then 
the mechanism is set off by which history takes one direction 
instead of another. 

O.F.: Strange that you cite De Gaulle, the man who delayed the 
birth of Europe. 

W.B.: De Gaulle was a great man, the only man capable of freeing 
France from the inferiority complex that the Second World 
War had caused it. The only one capable of making it a great 
power honoris causa . If one looks on Europe with the concept 
of a United States of Europe, then he was certainly not a sup¬ 
porter. But the astonishing fact remains that, under him, the 
European Community went forward instead of being dis¬ 
mantled. He could have stopped it and instead he let it go on. 
We mustn’t put all the blame on him. And when we speak of 
Ostpolitik . . . 

O.F.: The Ostpolitik is Brandt, because it’s Brandt who went to the 

w.B.: Yes, but I don’t deny that someone else could have developed 
a policy similar to mine. Even if I hadn’t begun that policy in 
1967 and 1968 when I was foreign minister, someone else 


Willy Brandt 

would have done it later. Albeit under less favorable condi¬ 
tions. It had to be done, otherwise Germany would have re¬ 
mained in a corner and in contradiction with the policy al¬ 
ready undertaken by its most important allies. Namely the 
United States and France. Oh, believe me, the individual 
must be there but the situation must be there too. 

O.F.: That's almost a Marxist argument. Chancellor Brandt, you 
were a Marxist as a young man, weren't you? 

w.B. : I thought I was. But I'm not sure I worked hard enough to 
become one. Too bad. I should have. Because to be a Marxist 
as a young man is excellent preparation for becoming a good 
socialist as an old one. 

O.F.: Anyway you were a left-wing socialist. Well, what's left in you 
of the socialism you dreamed of when you were a tempestuous 
and enthusiastic youth? 

w.B.: Look, a good portion of that socialism has become reality. If I 
compare the conditions in which the people lived then and 
live now, I have to conclude that a good portion of material 
security has been achieved. What remains to be accomplished 
today is the permanent commitment of socialism. Not only as 
regards wages, which are important too, but as regards the 
strengthening of the human personality. 1 don't know if I 
make myself clear. One must know what to do with one's life. 
And . . . you see, as a young man 1 didn't know that social¬ 
ism is a permanent commitment. I thought socialism was 
something to put into practice and then, if anything, to im¬ 
prove on. Instead it’s much, much more. It's a way of com¬ 
bining freedom and justice and solidarity in a commitment 
that never ends. Socialism is like a sailor who very quickly 
learns to be a sailor, even if he's only a boy and has never seen 
the sea. Because on his first voyage, the sailor discovers that 
the horizon is not a boundary line. When the ship moves, the 
horizon moves too—always farther on, always farther on, until 
it becomes so many horizons that are always new. Oh, yes. 
That's how I see socialism—like a horizon well never reach 
and to which we always try to get closer. 

O.F.: Chancellor Brandt, to what degree were you influenced by 
Scandinavian socialism? Or rather, were you influenced by it? 

w.B.: Yes, of course. Take a country like Norway. A country that’s 



been so important to me. One of the best experiences I’ve had 
has been to live in Norway, because in Norway the peasants 
have never been slaves. Never. The peasant movement re¬ 
mains at the base of their modern democracy and . . . that 
certainly influenced me. There I discovered the elements of 
liberalism without which humanitarian socialism can't exist. 

O.F.: Chancellor Brandt, I know that your eldest son is a Maoist 
and . . . 

w.b.: Oh, he wouldn't call himself a Maoist. He says he's a Marxist 
and perhaps a Marxist-Leninist. He's twenty-five years old 
now, an adult man, and he no longer represents the young 
rebels who call themselves Maoists. Even if his ideas are very 
different from the ideas of his father. 

O.F.: The question I was getting ready to ask you still holds good 
though. Do you find in the young people of today a certain in¬ 
gratitude, or a certain blindness to what has been done so that 
they could live in a better world? 

w.b.: No. I wouldn't put it that way. Because young people today 
don’t make the comparison between today's reality and yester¬ 
day's misery. The misery, for example, in which we were 
drowning during and after the war. Most of them weren't even 
born when we were drowning in that misery, and so they com¬ 
pare the reality of today with the possibilities of tomorrow. 
You see what 1 mean? They don’t reason like ourselves, who 
put what we have today on one pan of the scales and on the 
other what we had in 1945 and 1946. Then we weigh it and 
say, “We've done well, we've done a good job.” When I talk 
face to face with the young people of today, I defend what 
we've done. 1 say, none of you can take away our pride in hav¬ 
ing done a good deal. But I don’t expect them to identify with 
my problems, since they aren't their problems. The result is I 
defend my times and they defend theirs. And this happens 
with my children too, with the advantage that we avoid argu¬ 
ments. We've never had very many, I must say, also because 
I’ve spent so little time with them ... so seldom at home. 

. . . But when my eldest son, who lives in Berlin, comes to 
pay me a visit or spends his vacation with us, we don’t quarrel. 
If it comes to analyzing the moral category in which each of 
us is engaged, I cut things short: “My problem isn’t yours, and 
yours isn’t mine.” 

Willy Brandt 231 

O.F.: It's extraordinary that politics hasn’t made you cynical, Chan¬ 

w.B.: No, no. Never! You surely run the risk of becoming cynical 
when you achieve power. But I’ve always succeeded in con¬ 
trolling and then overcoming it. 

O.F.: Even when Adenauer attacked you with such ferocity and 
stressed the fact that you were an illegitimate son, that you had 
taken Norwegian citizenship, that . . . 

w.B.: Adenauer really behaved very badly with me. And yet, 
strangely enough, on the personal level, he never showed any 
hostility. Though he said all those ugly things about me, he 
had a kind of sympathy for me. And I, though I strongly 
disagreed with his methods and politics, had great respect for 
him. During the election campaign of 1961, and right in the 
middle of all that mudslinging, he called me to his office. 
Right here where we are now. Or rather, I was sitting where 
you’re sitting now and he was sitting here where I’m sitting. 
Right away I said to him, “Mr. Chancellor, does it seem right 
to you, does it seem sensible, to carry on an election campaign 
the way you’re doing?” He answered, “But, Mr. Mayor! I 
don’t understand what you’re talking about! Do you think I 
have anything against you? Not at all! If I had something 
against you, I'd call you aside and we’d talk about it.” So I 
didn’t react. Or not as I'd reacted in the campaign he’d 
launched against me in 1957 and 1958. Then the whole busi¬ 
ness was repeated in 1965, and this time I really got mad. I no 
longer wanted to run in the elections. I said to my party: 
“That’s enough; I’m too heavy a burden for your shoulders. 
Better to leave the candidacy to someone else. I withdraw.” 
And it was at that point that things began to go w'ell for me. 
Sometimes you have to slow' down or actually stop the au¬ 
tomobile in order to pick up speed. In 1966 my party held its 
convention. It ended with unanimous support for Brandt, 
and . . . 

O.F.: And Brandt became foreign minister, then chancellor, and 
then even won the Nobel Peace Prize. Chancellor Brandt, is it 
true that you cried when you received the news? 

w.B.: No, that’s an exaggeration. No. I’d heard that they would give 
me the prize, and when Aiders, one of my assistants, handed 
me a sheet of paper with the news, I said nothing. I took the 



paper, put it in a drawer, and went on writing some notes. 
The Bundestag met that day and . . . Certainly I was moved. 
But I didn't cry at all. 

O.F.: Do you never cry? 

w.B.: Very rarely since I’ve become an adult. Very rarely. I may 
feel happy or unhappy or moved. Look . . . like most Nor¬ 
dics, I'm sentimental. A romantic, if you like. So emotion 
isn't alien to me, but 1 always try to conceal it. Or control it. 
And 1 prefer to laugh. Especially when I drink a glass of wine 
in the evening and am with my friends. 1 like to tell jokes. It's a 
weakness of mine. I collect them all and often invent them. 
The trouble is 1 often laugh at them more than the people 
who are listening. 

O.F.: That’s all very nice, but it seems to me almost impossible that 
you can speak of the Nobel Prize with such detachment. Not 
many politicians receive the Nobel Prize and . . . 

w.B.: That's because there aren't many good politicians, and be¬ 
cause the committee has to be careful not to offend anyone. In 
my case, they chose the right moment, namely, the moment 
when they would have offended the least number of people. In 
fact, despite the Nobel, I still have a lot of friends. Yes, I un¬ 
derstand. You want to know if the Nobel was the greatest satis¬ 
faction of my life. No. It was something that encouraged me, 
but I didn't react to it by dancing up and down. If I run 
through the list of people who have won prizes, and even 
when I think that the Nobel Prize is considered the most im¬ 
portant, I . . . Anyway to give me the Nobel Peace Prize 
wasn't like giving it to Carl von Ossietzky. They gave it to him 
when he was in a concentration camp, and he was taken out 
of that concentration camp only to be kept under arrest in the 
hospital where he died. Ossietzky was a symbol, a martyr. I'm 
really not a martyr and I wasn’t suffering at all when I got the 

O.F.: I'm seizing on the word suffering, Chancellor Brandt. And I’ll 
ask you something I've wanted to ask since the beginning of 
this conversation. Have you suffered from the fact of not 
knowing who your father was? 

w.B.: No. I haven't suffered from it, no. If instead of did I “suffer," 
you were to ask me was I “affected" by it, then that's different. 

Willy Brandt 


And I say yes. But if it did affect me, that goes back such a 
long time that I’ve almost forgotten about it. I began so early 
to build my life by myself. I began so early to have a name of 
my own, mine only. It’s no accident that I’ve always consid¬ 
ered the name I carry as my real name. Literally. And then it’s 
not correct to say I didn’t know who my father was. I’ll tell you 
something I’ve never told anyone. Anyone ... I knew who 
my father was. I knew his name. But I never wanted to meet 
him. He was still alive after the end of the war. But not even 
then was I interested in meeting him. 

O.F.: Why? Out of resentment? Out of respect for your mother? 

w.B.: I don’t know. I don’t care to comment on my attitude. I give 
you the facts and that’s all. 

O.F.: I understand. And I suppose then that your mother has been 
very important in your life. 

w.B. : Yes. When I was a child, a boy, yes. In fact, when they ask 
me “Why did you become a socialist?” I answer: through my 
mother. Even though she was very young, and though women 
were even forbidden to participate in political meetings, my 
mother was active in the trade union movement. And so not 
only was I born into socialism and trade unionism—that’s 
where I grew up. With very strong roots. Do you see what I 
mean? It wasn’t to my credit. It was to hers. 

O.F.: Maybe you’ve become Willy Brandt just because you had no 
father and did have such a mother. 

w.B.: That I don’t know. I’ve never been to a psychoanalyst and I 
can’t answer you. I can only say I’ve had the impression that, 
subconsciously, all this has had an influence. Yes, it must 
have had—but I don’t know to what extent. Besides if I look at 
myself at all clearly, I can say that my attitude toward life has 
been influenced more by reading than by people. Aside from 
my mother, of course. To the question, “Which is the writer, 
the politician, the man who has had the greatest impact on 
you?” I find it very difficult to give an answer. Or rather, im¬ 
possible. And I end up saying, “I’ve read a lot, I’ve read so 
much.” I don’t know even how to connect the effect of what 
I’ve read with the circumstances in which I was born and 
raised. But what’s more significant is that I don’t care about it. 
I’m not interested in bringing my unconscious to the surface. 

2 34 


O.F. : Chancellor Brandt, are you religious? 

w.b. : Hm. . . . The way 1 interpret religion is completely nonorth¬ 
odox, but I’m not an atheist—if that’s what you want to know. 
No, I’m not an atheist. I simply interpret what people call 
God or transcendental problems in a different manner from 
those who go to church. And I usually don’t like to talk about 
it, because . . . because ... In short, it’s against my nature 
to reveal myself completely. I wouldn’t succeed even if I tried. 

O.F.: That I’ve well understood, Chancellor Brandt. I’ve never in¬ 
terviewed a man so reserved and modest as you. One can talk 
with you about everything except Willy Brandt. 

w.b. : You must remember that I come from the Baltic, that I’m 
half sailor, and that those years in Norway had a great effect 
on me. And so to absolve myself, I’ll tell you a joke, a Nor¬ 
wegian one of course, that might have been invented just for 
me. On a mountain above a fiord there lived two peasants. 
Each one on his own. One day, one of the two peasants goes 
to visit the other. He enters his house and says nothing. He 
barely nods his head. Nor does the other one say anything. He 
doesn’t even nod his head. But he glances toward the side¬ 
board, where there’s a bottle of aquavit. The peasant who’s 
come to visit understands. He goes to the sideboard and takes 
the aquavit; he takes two glasses. He puts them on the table. 
He pours the aquavit. The two start drinking. They drink in 
silence, slowly, one glass after another. There’s not even a 
grunt to interrupt this dumb show. But, at the last sip of 
aquavit, the peasant who’s come to visit raises his glass and 
mumbles, “Skoal.” Then the other one explodes. “You stupid 
bastard! Did we get together to drink or to talk nonsense?” 

O.F.: I won’t say skoal to you, Chancellor Brandt. But may I say 
arrivederci and thank you? 

Bonn, September 1973 


Pietro Nenni 

Locked in an ivory tower that hardly suits him, the grand old man 
now seldom participates in the political life to which he has dedi¬ 
cated over three-quarters of his more than eighty years and given 
everything a man can give. Even a daughter, dead in the extermi¬ 
nation camp of Auschwitz after writing to her French comrades: 
“Dites a mon pere que je riai jamais trahi ses idees ” (Tell my father 
that I never betrayed his ideas). He leaves this ivory tower, which at 
times is his house in Rome and at others his villa in Formia, only 
to go to the Senate. They have made him senator for life, and he 
has accepted the office with great hesitation—he who was on the 
point of being elected president of the Republic. In the Socialist 
party of today he counts as a flag to be unfurled when convenient, 
and when not convenient to be folded up and put away in a 
drawer. He did not succeed in unifying it. He lost his battle and 
lost it badly, in bitterness and unconfessed disgust. Leaving the 
congress hall—it w r as 1968 —he was heard to murmur, “Here 
Nenni has no more friends.” A pity. He would still have had much 
to say, much to give. Age has imparted him only the image of a 
tired patriarch, for the rest he still is in excellent shape. He gets up 
every morning at seven and reads the newspapers while pedaling on 
his bicycle exerciser for a time equivalent to an excursion of five ki¬ 
lometers. He does not worry about his diet, nor deny himself a 
glass of w ine or a coffee. He plays bocce with the enthusiasm of a 


2 3 6 


young boy. And the doctors look at him with incredulous stupor. 
But best of all, in this lion’s organism, horn not to surrender, the 
mind remains. It still functions for him like a computer. 

He spends much of his time studying and writing. He is end¬ 
lessly working on a book that is supposed to be his autobiography, 
but given his modesty in speaking about himself, will end by being 
something else. He wants to call it Witness to a Century. Many 
wonder if on arriving at the last chapter, someday, he will finally 
say what today he does not want to say or says unclearly: namely 
that his socialism is no longer the one of fifty years ago, nor even 
the one of twenty-five years ago. For now it is a socialism that 
rejects dogmas, programs, abstract formulas; in return it is 
nourished by a blind faith in freedom, in democracy, in man. Un¬ 
pardonable heresies for a true Marxist. If you try to pin him down, 
he changes the subject. Or resorts to twisted arguments, vague ad¬ 
missions, which he then immediately withdraws. But the truth does 
not escape you: he has realized that the world is not ruled only by 
economics, that state capitalism is no different from private capital¬ 
ism, and is in some ways still more despotic since it evades the laws 
of criticism, of the market, of competition. He has realized that the 
dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing but a catchword, that you 
can fight the Fiat company but not the state—as was shown by the 
workers massacred at Danzig and Szczecin, by the intellectuals 
thrown into prisons or madhouses in Moscow and Leningrad. “I 
feel more at ease in Stockholm than in Leningrad,” he says. And 
that is the only uncompromising statement by which he dares to 
break his reticence. He has become enamored of Swedish social¬ 
ism, which has not abolished private property but has given man 
more than what doctrinaire and scientific socialism has given. And, 
perhaps, his youthful love for an anarchism interpreted as the de¬ 
fense of the individual has re-emerged in him. Who can say how 
much torment such a discovery may have cost him and still does? 
Or how many sleepless nights, how much anguish, caused by his 
scruples toward those whose teacher he has been for two genera¬ 
tions. Approaching the end of his life, he suffers a tragedy compa¬ 
rable to the tragedy of theologians who discover they no longer 
believe in God. Or no longer believe in the Church, even if they 
still believe in God. 

I asked him to talk to me, out of his lucidity and wisdom, and to 

Pietro Nenni 


explain to me what is happening in the Italy of the 1970 s. And this 
he did in a conversation that lasted several days and was broken up 
into several meetings. His health is not perfect; he has heart trouble 
and cannot endure prolonged exertion. So I met him in his house 
in Formia, where he goes for weekends or whenever else he can, or 
in his house in Rome, on the top floor of a building in the Piazza 
Adriana. We generally talked for a while in the morning, after he 
had played his bocce game, and stopped when it was time to go to 
lunch. We ate in a leisurely fashion, helped along by a good 
French wine, and then he took a nap. Toward four or five o’clock 
we resumed our conversation, slowly, like his way of speaking. He 
answered each question with exasperating slowness, separating one 
word from another as though he were dictating to a secretary, 
lingering over periods and commas, and paying no attention to the 
clock. And so dusk caught us, in this prolix process of words and 
ideas that nevertheless enchanted me to the point of forgetting to 
turn on the light. Ill always remember a session that ended in the 
dark, and neither of 11 s had realized that darkness had fallen. We 
were in his study in Formia, a small room furnished only with a 
day bed, a desk, a bookcase, and two chairs. Pina, his housekeeper, 
came in and scolded us. “What’s this? Do we sit around talking like 
the blind?” At other times twilight caught us in his study in Rome, 
which is just as small but somewhat resembles a sanctuary. Here, 
over the day bed, is a large portrait in oils of his dead wife and then 
there are the photographs of Vittoria, the daughter who died at 
Auschwitz. But not ordinary photographs from happy times: photos 
taken upon her entrance into the extermination camp, wearing a 
prisoner’s striped gown, and with a number at the bottom. One full 
face and one in profile. I’ve always wondered why. Perhaps so as 
never to forget at any moment, and even less at the moment of 
closing his eyes in sleep or reopening them, the sacrifice of his 
daughter? Our meetings in the Rome study were primarily to go 
over and discuss the transcription of the dialogues recorded on tape 
in Formia. 

It’s not easy to interview Pietro Nenni, as anyone who has tried it 
knows. A journalist himself, instead of letting himself be inter¬ 
viewed, he would prefer to do the interviewing and then draft the 
article himself—so as to measure every sentence, every adjective, 
every comma, and perhaps immediately afterward to strike every- 



thing out and start all over again. He is never satisfied with what he 
writes. When he was the editor of Avantil , the socialist daily, he 
forced himself to compose his pieces in type, against the clock, so 
as to keep himself from making corrections in extremis. So just 
imagine his being satisfied with what he says into a tape recorder. 
“I don’t much care for that machine of yours, it’s dangerous.” If 
you interview him in successive stages, as I did, next day you find 
him submerged in a sea of slips of paper covered with scribbles, 
corrections, afterthoughts. Raising his wrinkled forefinger, he reads 
them, and unfailingly it is a new version of what he had told you: 
verified, expurgated, ruined. But rather than reading it, he dictates 
it to you, and having dictated it, adds supplementary changes. 
Copiously. “Cut out that /. It’s not good to keep saying /, J, I. Cut 
out those theys and put we. It’s not good to put the blame on others 
when it was also my own.” You’d like to get angry and instead 
you’re moved: he is such an honorable man, such a professor of 
honesty. And also such a professor of generosity: in judging others 
he is always afraid of offending them. He begged me not to write an 
opinion about Churchill, a man he never liked because of the con¬ 
tempt he showed for others, so as not to seem unjust. “After all, if 
it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be here today to talk.” Winston 
Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Charles de Gaulle, Mao Tse-tung, Nikita 
Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Antonio 
Gramsci, Filippo Turati, Enrico Malatesta, Queen Elizabeth—all 
have passed through his life and not superficially. “I remember 
Mao Tse-tung saying to me ... I remember De Gaulle saying to 
me ...” And the time he, a republican, was supposed to ride in 
the golden carriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret: 
“No, don’t make me think of it.” And the time they wanted to seat 
him next to the Greek ambassador at an official dinner. And he in¬ 
dignantly changed his seat. “Ah, what agony, what a pain. 1 felt 
sick to my stomach.” To listen to him is a pleasure that should be 
taken as a gift. To write what you have listened to, on the other 
hand, is a torment that can only be taken as a punishment. 

So when I sat down to compose this interview, I found myself 
faced with a problem of conscience: to compose it in my way or in 
his way, to recount everything he had told me before his after¬ 
thoughts or to report only what his excessive scruples had insisted 
on? No small problem when you respect a man to the degree that I 

Pietro Nenni 

2 39 

respect him and at the same time believe in your own work as in a 
duty. And for several days I agonized over it, now deciding to do 
what he wanted and then deciding to disobey him. In the end I 
resolved the dilemma by a kind of compromise. Namely by com¬ 
posing the interview in the way that seemed right to me, while at 
the same time accepting some of his recommendations. 

It worked. After reading the published interview, Nenni told me 
that I had betrayed neither his thoughts nor himself. And it was the 
beginning of a friendship in which I take the greatest pride. I like to 
see, reflected in myself, his ideas, doubts, uncertainties, and im¬ 
possible dreams. It was also a great relief because, as Vittoria, his 
daughter who died at Auschwitz because she was his daughter, un¬ 
derstood, above all he must not be betrayed, a crime many have 
committed. Far too many. Even at the moment when they should 
have been honoring him by electing him president of the Republic. 
He would have made a splendid president of the Republic, and it 
would have done us good to have him in the Quirinale. But they 
didn’t let him, they didn’t let us. His friends still more than his 

ORIANA fallaci: In an interview in Europeo , Arthur Schlesinger 
said of the Italians, "Who can ever understand you when 
you’re the first not to understand yourselves?” Senator Nenni, 
I’m here to ask you to help us understand ourselves and what 
is happening today in Italy. You have the reputation of being a 
pessimist, I know. Still . . . 

pietro nenni: No, I’m a pessimist when it comes to evaluating im¬ 
mediate events—if you ask me what’s going to happen tonight, 
I’ll say it will probably be something unpleasant. But if you ask 
me what’s going to happen in the years to come, then I be¬ 
come an optimist. That’s because I believe in man, in his ca¬ 
pacity to improve. It’s because I consider man as the begin¬ 
ning and end of all things. Because I’m convinced that he, 
man, is always the decisive proof, and that only by changing 
man do you change society. In sixty-five years of participating 
in political struggles, my problem has always been that of 
improving myself as a man and of helping my comrades in 



arms to make the same effort. It’s not impossible, if you un¬ 
derstand man. And when Schlesinger says you can’t under¬ 
stand the Italians, he’s just making a wisecrack. They’re no 
more incomprehensible than others, and no worse. It’s only 
that they have great difficulty in rationalizing their collective 
life and in taking certain threats seriously. The unsuccessful 
coup by Valerio Borghese, for example. Obviously the danger 
is not Valerio Borghese in himself and for himself. The danger 
is the breakdown of the democratic state—a breakdown we en¬ 
courage by doing and undoing things, thus running the risk of 
letting ourselves be overtaken by such phenomena as Valerio 

O. F.: You’ll admit it’s hard to take a Valerio Borghese seriously, or 

even a dictatorship headed by Valerio Borghese. 

P. N.: You remind me of all the people who said, in the 1920-1922 

crisis: “But you take this Mussolini too seriously! It must be 
because you were in jail with him. But how can a fellow like 
that take over the government? There’s no man who can set 
up a dictatorship in Italy!” What does it mean, “There’s no 
man”? You don’t need an exceptional individual to make him 
the symbol of a situation! All you need is some fanatic, some 
supposedly harmless eccentric, some conceited type out for 
success. Besides what was Mussolini in 1920, and even in 
1921 and twenty-two? He’d received four thousand votes in 
the elections of 1919—four thousand votes in Milan, a city 
he’d practically controlled since 1913, when he became editor 
of Avantil. He was ready to run off to Switzerland; he had 
more faith in that possibility than in the idea of going to Rome 
and forming a government. And instead he went to Rome. As 
I was afraid he would. Because I knew that when adventurers, 
or rather condottieri , can operate within a sick society, any¬ 
thing becomes possible. 

So it’s irresponsible to smile and say, Where today is there a 
Mussolini? Where today is there a Hitler? Mussolinis get in¬ 
vented, Hitlers get invented. And to invent one all you need 
are a hundred newspapers to repeat daily, “He’s a great man,” 
a pope to declare, “He’s the man of Providence,” perhaps a 
Churchill to state, “He’s the first man behind whom I sense 
the will of the Italians.” As happened with Mussolini. So why 

Pietro Nenni 


can't one, in the same way, invent a Valerio Borghese, who is 
a former prince and colonel, a sinker of ships and ex-torpedo 
boat commander? Certainly his unsuccessful coup looks like a 
caricature of a coup d’etat: you don't occupy Italy by occupy¬ 
ing the Palazzo Chigi and the RAI radio and television station. 
Not unless there’s complicity within the state, for instance 
support from the armed forces and the police, something that 
could happen today only on a very reduced scale and thanks to 
complicity at the top. Let's not forget that Mussolini took the 
train only after receiving the king’s telegram inviting him to 
the Quirinale. But there's no king today in the Quirinale, 
there's Saragat. And anyway that's not the point. The point 
is . . . 

O. F.: One moment, Senator Nenni. You’re upholding a dreadful 

theory. You're saying there are similarities between the Italy of 
1971 and the Italy of 1922. Is that so? 

P. N.: Yes, to some extent. The Italy of 1971 is not the Italy of 1922, 

of course. At that time we didn’t know fascism and now we 
know it only too well, nor are we ready to go through it a sec¬ 
ond time. But there's one point that shows striking similarities 
between the Italy of seventy-one and the Italy of twenty-two— 
the one I indicated to the Senate when I reminded it that what 
ruined us in 1922 was not the offensive strength of fascism. It 
was the weakness of the ruling political class. It was the petty 
divisions that promoted jealousy, spite, and false hopes among 
politicians. No one believed in the danger. Everyone waited. 
Giolitti was waiting in Vichy, pondering no one knows exactly 
what—maybe the aw ful words of Cromwell: “Things will have 
to get worse before we can expect them to get better.” How 
many politicians today are thinking the same thing? And don’t 
they also risk waking up one fine day, or rather one bad day, 
without being able to do anything more about it? Let’s not 
forget that one night in 1967 the Athenians went to bed with 
their eyes and ears still full of popular demonstrations for old 
Papandreou, and woke up next morning with the colonels in 

O. F.: But Italy is not Greece, Senator Nenni. And in Italy the left is 


P. N.: We were also strong in 1920—it’s not enough to be strong. 


One must know how to prevent certain things by making the 
state, the government, the parliament function, and not go on 
postponing, postponing, postponing—a practice to which 
we’ve made too many concessions in recent years. For years 
I’ve been warning against jealousy, spite, slowness, meanness. 
For years I’ve been repeating what I now tell you: when you’re 
talking about fascism, better too much than too little vigi¬ 
lance. They don’t listen to me. These words of mine also fell 
on deaf ears in the summer of 1964. In fact, the communists 
at the time said I was talking about an “imaginary danger,” 
and called it a “diversion to conceal the failures of the center- 
left.” And yet I was expounding real facts. Just think of what 
we found out later about SIFAR * and certain military com¬ 
mands. Look, how is it possible that in Reggio Calabria that 
Franco Ciccio or Ciccio Franco or whatever his name is was 
able to play the role of Masaniello? How is it possible that the 
parties stayed away from Aquila? These were municipal revolts 
and, mind you, they took as their target the headquarters of 
the leftist parties and the government. Not the headquarters of 
the MSI.* So the point to be examined, as I said, is not 
Valerio Borghese, but rather what made Valerio Borghese 
think that a sudden attack on the Palazzo Chigi and the radio 
and television station could be transformed into a coup d’etat 
and receive the thanks of the state? 

O. F.: Is there an answer? 

P. N.: Of course there is! Here too, as in 1922, the fascists counted 

on the help they’d get from the right. The classical right, the 
eternal right, the right that has little voting strength but pos¬ 
sesses economic power, and has leverage in the administration 
and the armed forces. The right that would like to reabsorb the 
moderate forces of the Christian Democrats. The right that 
would like to re-establish a bourgeois order that’s now in de¬ 
cline. The right that makes use of the fascists as an element of 
provocation because it needs disorder, that is, fear. Disorder is 
always useful to the enemies of democracy. It’s even useful to 

* Servizio Informazioni Forze Armate della Repubblica; now called SID, Servizio 
Informazioni della Difesa, military counterespionage organization. (Translator’s 

* Movimento Sociale Italiano, the neofascist party. (Translator’s note.) 

Pietro Nenni 


the communists, who can thus pose as defenders of legality, so 
just imagine how useful it is to the right. That’s what our poli¬ 
ticians don’t understand when they play at making artificial 
reforms. That’s what our youth groups outside Parliament 
don’t understand when by their violence they help the reac¬ 
tionaries and the MSI. 

O. F.: Senator Nenni, do you think it’s right for the MSI to be in 


P. N.: No, I don’t think it’s right. Because the MSI was bom with all 

the characteristics of a fascist party—to have accepted it was 
one more mistake by us Italians, who never take things too 
seriously. Yes, even in the case of the MSI our democratic 
state failed to keep its prerogatives: it did not apply Rule 12 of 
the Constitution, it didn’t even apply the Scelba Law of 1952, 
which explicitly forbids the formation of organizations or par¬ 
ties that renew ties with fascism. Anyway I give only relative 
importance to the fact that in Parliament there’s a party of the 
fascist type, since I see things in political terms. The fascists 
you can dissolve when and how you like—that’s not enough to 
suppress them. To suppress them you have to pull up the so¬ 
cial, political, and psychological roots that produce fascism. 
And these roots still haven’t been pulled up in Italy, only cut 
at the surface. 

O. F.: That’s just what I wanted to get to, Senator Nenni: the predis¬ 

position the Italians show toward this disease called fascism. 
Fascism is first of all violence, contempt for democracy— 
therefore it doesn’t only come dressed in black. Don’t you 
think that these roots that have never been pulled up also 
flower into the violence of extremists on the left? 

P. N.: Yes, the youngsters who call themselves Maoists, Trotskyites, 

neoanarchists indulge in violence, it’s true. And so they offer 
examples, pretexts, they nourish hatred and fear, without real¬ 
izing that they have nothing to gain by hatred and fear. But 
one shouldn’t confuse them with the fascists. Fascism is not 
an extremist movement—it’s fascism, that’s all. Fascism is 
what we went through under Mussolini, under the Said Re¬ 
public. It doesn’t want to advance the world, it wants to make 
it go backward. I mean, an act of Maoist violence and an act 
of fascist violence may be, yes, the same thing, but only 



roughly speaking. Morally and historically there’s a great dif¬ 
ference. The fascists are dangerous because they go back to a 
recent tradition of our country and have behind them the 
forces of reaction; the so-called Maoists are not dangerous 
because they don’t go beyond a revolt that after all is childish. 
The ideas that inspire them are not despicable but utopian and 
outside Italian, or rather European, reality. We saw them 
explode in France in May 1968. What did they get by it? Just 
the opposite of what they were after. May 1968 was enough to 
bring about an involution of French society and bring it back 
to its conservative foundations. If today in France you have a 
Gaullism without De Gaulle, and it has power and keeps it, 
this is also owing to the youth movement that frightened so 
many people. I reminded the Senate of a sentence from 
Lenin: ‘‘Above all beware of arousing useless fear.” These 
youngsters ought to take it to heart. 

O. F.: And when they give a Nenni the raspberry, as in Turin? It was 

despicable the way they behaved with you on that occasion. 

P. N.: Oh, no. It was a little incident of intolerance. I wasn’t upset 

by it at all. One of their comrades had been arrested and they 
were protesting against anyone representing the authority of 
the government. For them I was the government, and respon¬ 
sible for the arrest. . . . Let’s not forget that young extremists 
are the historical result of all the authoritarianism that you 
find in every social system, in every organized society. You’re 
in trouble if at the age of twenty you reason with the mentality 
of someone eighty years old like me. Or even with the mental¬ 
ity of someone forty. Believe me, my indulgence toward them 
doesn’t come from discouragement, it comes from a knowl¬ 
edge of history. In our society the phenomenon of youthful 
revolt comes and goes in precise cycles—at the beginning of 
this century the revolt of young people was one of the strongest 
movements. It was all there, even then, and on an interna¬ 
tional scale: antimilitarism, anticlericalism, futurism, the gen¬ 
eration gap between parents and children. We too rebelled 
against our families, though in different terms. We too didn’t 
accept the words of the peasant mother who shook her head 
and said, “Never mind, things have always been like this and 

Pietro Nenni 


always will.” I remember it very well—I was one of the most 
outraged participants in that revolt. 

O. F.: History repeats itself, after all, and Giambattista Vico is right. 

P. N.: Of course he's right. History doesn't repeat itself in the same 

conditions but it repeats itself. At that time too there was ex¬ 
tremist trade unionism, then too they resorted to wildcat 
strikes. The most typical demonstration was called the match 
strike, when they set fire to the crops. In Bologna, Parma, 
Modena. The class struggle, at that time, was mainly the 
struggle of peasants and day laborers. The culmination for us 
was Red Week, which I had the good fortune to direct along¬ 
side of Enrico Malatesta. I ended up in the Court of Assizes in 
Aquila as a result of it, accused of an attack on the state. 
Before Red Week, in 1909, we had tried a great international 
strike for the anarchist Francisco Ferrer. They shot him in 
Barcelona, for intention to commit a crime, and I was one of 
the sponsors of that strike in the city of Carrara, then anarchist 
and republican. In Forli I also sponsored the strike against the 
war in Tripoli. 

We believed in strikes as the means for obtaining the sur¬ 
render of the capitalist forces, and also as a means for prevent¬ 
ing war and guaranteeing peace among nations. ... I repeat: 
these crises in which everything is called into question are re¬ 
current crises. Sometimes they take cultural forms, sometimes 
social ones, but essentially they're the same thing. In my time 
we looked to Georges Sorel, to his Reflexiones sur la violence. 
Today they look to Mao's thoughts. Whether inspired by Mao 
or Sorel, the phenomenon always goes back to the same law. 
The law by which young people are a component in the devel¬ 
opment of societies. The boys and girls of today think they've 
invented the world. Youngsters always think that the world 
begins with them. 

O. F.: Senator Nenni, your revolt emerged from a state of poverty 

and oppression that's not even comparable to that of today. So 
don't you feel that your violence was more justified than 

P. N.: Undoubtedly. And your question reminds me of an article 

that’s been written about the “moderate" Nenni—the man of 



Red Week who today asks that violence be relinquished. This 
article acknowledged a logical continuity in me. It really is in 
me, my dear friend. Because today we have something to 
defend, and in my time we had nothing at all to defend. Or 
very little. Today freedom to think, to organize, to demon¬ 
strate exists—open to everyone. In my time it didn’t exist. 
Today no one can stop you from transforming the present civil 
and social order. In my time you were stopped. In short, every 
struggle for freedom should include the defense of freedoms 
already gained, and when I look at the young people of today 
I’m sorry about only one thing: that they let themselves be 
ruined by the resurgent myth of violence. Violence is the 
midwife of history, yes—but only when you exercise it in the 
right conditions of time and place. Such conditions don’t exist 
at present in our country. Violence is a response to abuses that 
leave you no other way to claim justice, yes—but we have 
other means of struggle against what survives of those abuses 
today. If these young people were to conduct their action on 
the plane of ideas, it would be much more effective. The trou¬ 
ble is that not all of them have ideas—many of these rebels are 
the industrialists and the bourgeoisie of tomorrow. Just as 
many of the rebels who exploded at the beginning of the cen¬ 
tury later became fascists, and even fascist ministers. Believe 
me, sometimes I wonder if their explosions in the streets and 
universities aren’t a passing fashion, a way of letting off steam, 
a price paid to momentary resentments, rather than the con¬ 
sidered rejection of a world to which in great part they belong. 

O. F.: They spit on democracy, Senator Nenni. It’s not unusual for 

them to spit on the Resistance. Through Mao they take as 
their model a society with which we have nothing in com¬ 
mon. Now, you who have been to China and met Mao Tse- 
tung . . . 

P. N.: Yes, but it’s not by brief contact with an unknown country 

that we get to understand a revolution, a system, or a man. I 
don’t have much faith in such trips. You see, Khrushchev 
once told me that Stalin knew very little about Russia, and 
when he saw my astonishment, he explained, “We made films 
for him and then showed them to him. Scenes of city and 
country life—all concocted.” And I answered jokingly, “The 

Pietro Nenni 


same things you show us when we come to Russia.” That’s 
how it is. We don’t know much about the Soviet Union, even 
after having been there. And we don’t know much about 
China after having been there. For instance, how can you get 
behind the mystery of this recent phase of the Chinese revolu¬ 
tion? Insofar as it can be seen as a libertarian revolt, it seems 
to be something positive. But has it been only a matter of a 
libertarian revolt? We'll find out in the future. As for Mao 
Tse-tung, look: at the moment you approach Mao Tse-tung, 
you’re not approaching an ordinary man who has the features 
of Mao Tse-tung—you’re approaching the creator of a great 
revolution and you’re in a very special frame of mind. The 
same thing happened to me with Mao Tse-tung as happened 
to me with Stalin. Seen face to face, Stalin seemed like a 
harmless and polite little man. He was so affable, he actually 
gave the impression of being slipshod. But you never forgot he 
was Stalin, one of the victors, if not the victor, of the Second 
World War, the great leader of Russia. 

O.F.: Let’s go back to Mao Tse-tung. Did you like him? 

p.n.: Of course! He may be the world figure I’ve liked the most. 
But if I had to account for this choice, I wouldn’t be able. 
Because it’s a matter of instinct. I suppose I liked him because 
he comes from a peasant background. And I’m the son of 
peasants, with no city or middle-class mixtures. Mao, what do 
you want me to say about Mao? We were together for an after¬ 
noon, half of which was taken up by translation—we talked 
about things through an interpreter. Not even Chou En-lai, 
who’s been a miner in Belgium and should know how to speak 
French well, and who certainly speaks English, spoke to me 
without an interpreter. Mao was cordial. He even asked me 
what was Operation Nenni, about which there was a lot in the 
newspapers at the time. So I explained to him that it was an 
attempt at opening toward the Christian Democrats, so as to 
encourage them to turn to the left, but he didn’t express any 
opinions. You can see some things don’t enter into his frame 
of reference. Then we talked about China’s entry into the UN, 
about mutual recognition by our two countries, about the 
Catholic missions in China with regard to which there had 
been some talk of massacres. He seemed to me very alive. And 



I feel well with men who are alive. Which also goes and 
especially for Khrushchev. You see, the Soviet leaders are like 
stone walls. They never bring anything human into their 
talk—they shy away from pleasantries, they're always so pomp¬ 
ous. Khrushchev instead was never pompous, even in front of 
a foreigner like me. He drank, he joked, he made fun of his 
collaborators. Speaking of Molotov, he said to me, “You 
know, that one's a mule!" Anyway I'd found out he was a 
mule myself when we'd met to discuss the Trieste problem. 
But what do these memories have to do with anything? 
Weren’t we supposed to be talking about Italy and the Italians? 

O. F.: Yes, and here’s a question that many people would like to ask 

you. People are talking more and more about a council Re¬ 
public composed of Catholics and communists. Do you think 
such a marriage is imminent, or rather possible? 

P. N.: No, I don't much think so. The council Republic is a sugges¬ 

tive formula, like the one of “spaghetti with Chilean sauce." 
But I'd say even this formula is anything but imminent and 
probable. It’s not based on solid realities. And too many fac¬ 
tors are holding it back: a Socialist party aware of its role and 
its autonomy, the lay forces represented by such parties as the 
Republican party, the presence in Italy of cultural circles 
engaged in the defense of freedom. . . . It’s obvious that to 
the Christian Democrats and the Communist party such a 
protest seems attractive. A two-party system, basically, is their 
political dream. It's obvious that there are currents engaged in 
an operation of this kind—even outside the Demo-christian 
and Communist parties there are those who delude themselves 
that a union of the “black priests" with the “red priests" would 
guarantee for several years a relative social peace, the preserva¬ 
tion of the status quo. Didn't the same thing happen with me, 
with the opening to the left? There were many who believed 
that to open the doors of the government to the socialists 
would help to safeguard the status quo. But, I repeat, I have 
little belief in the possibility of such a deplorable event. No, 
no. It’s too pessimistic to talk about it. I don’t want to. 

O.F. : Let’s do it anyway. Even on the level of political fantasy. 
Senator Nenni, just what would a council Republic be? What 
consequences would it have for us? 

Pietro Nenni 


P.N.: Clearly it would be the marriage of two integralist groups in 
agreement on one point: to remove from our midst all the 
forces that go back to the principles of democracy and free¬ 
dom. Two integralist groups that are aware, yes, of certain 
problems but aren't aware of others that to me are fundamen¬ 
tal: individual freedom, democratic life. With the council Re¬ 
public we'd witness the division of power between two 
churches: to one church, the hegemony of the state; to the 
other church, the hegemony of the opposition. At the same 
time we'd see the eventual suppression and disappearance of 
every intermediary force capable of applying any restraint. In 
substance, the Socialist party would disappear as well as the 
bloc of lay forces. Also to disappear would be vast sectors, 
Christian in inspiration, that have made a broad contribution 
to the secular and democratic rebirth of Italy. I'm speaking in 
abstract terms, you understand, because each integralist group 
would have to reckon with us. Look, such a marriage tempts 
the imagination of foreign observers, the same as the formula 
of “spaghetti with Chilean sauce." Abroad, in fact, the prob¬ 
lem of the communists in the government with or without the 
Christian Democrats is presented as the problem of Italy. I 
don't consider it the problem. I consider it a problem. And the 
solution of this problem is still in the hands of the commu¬ 

O. F. : What do you mean? 

P. N.: I mean that the clarification of their presence in a coalition 

whose common denominator is democracy depends on them. 
Th is is what it doesn't seem to me the communists have done. 
True, sometimes they've varied their methods and tactics. Just 
think of the switch they made in Salerno in 1944, with To- 
gliatti's meeting with the king. True, they've made statements. 
They've taken risks. But the communist objective remains the 
conquest of power under the more or less totalitarian hege¬ 
mony of their party. Then on an international level their his¬ 
torical position remains within the Soviet system, which is 
directed from Moscow even when they express reservations on 
what happened in Czechoslovakia and Poland, even when 
they know the Soviets were ready to intervene in Warsaw as 
they had intervened in Prague. In short, are the communists 



approaching a democratic and human socialism or not? Are 
they about to accept this revisionism of a socialism with a new 
face or not? 

O. F.: Senator Nenni, do you think it can happen? 

P. N.: 1 note that it hasn’t happened in the last fifty years, and not 

even in the last ten. Quite a long period of time. We know 
that in the countries they govern, every revisionist attempt to 
have a socialism with a human face has been crushed by vio¬ 
lence and terror. We know that Peking calls the Soviet Union 
a “paradise for a group of monopolist and capitalist bureau¬ 
crats as well as a prison for millions of workers.” We know that 
Moscow returns the compliment by calling Mao Tse-tung 
“one of the greatest traitors of history, comparable only to 
Hitler.” And on these basic conflicts the Italian communists 
have never clearly expressed themselves. So it’s absurd to take 
for granted something that might happen and also might not, 
but anyway hasn’t yet happened. Everything is possible, of 
course—the Italian communists have already been in the gov¬ 
ernment. We were there together, from 1944 to 1947. And 
De Gasperi at the time was frightened by their moderation. He 
said to me, “Look, I can’t deal with you politically because, 
when you offer me ten, Togliatti arrives and immediately 
offers me fifty.” Would they do the same tomorrow? Who 
knows? Only by examining things vigorously can we give rise 
to the elements of a historical process that will keep the com¬ 
munists on the outside. So what I’ve been saying for years is 
still valid today: communists and socialists must each play 
their part. But the key issue in the Italy of today, believe me, 
is not that of the council Republic. It’s not that of spaghetti 
with Chilean sauce. The key issue, or rather the key problem, 
is the crisis of the center-left. It’s the weakness of the demo¬ 
cratic state that this crisis involves. 

O. F. : And that’s what I wanted to get to, Senator Nenni. The 

center-left is one of your creations. But must we speak of crisis 
and failure? 

P. N.: Failure? Must we consider this experiment a failure, or 

shouldn’t we rather examine its crisis and the points from 
which strength be regained? True, there have been errors on 
our part. There have been contradictions, delays, culpable 

Pietro Nenni 


slowness. Worse—there’s been a degeneration in the oligarchi¬ 
cal sense of power, a corruption in the relations between pub¬ 
lic power and private interests. There’s been a weakening of 
ideal values. That’s the reason for the discredit that’s fallen on 
everything and everybody, for the lack of public confidence in 
the political class. But if it’s right to emphasize the errors of 
the center-left, it’s not right to condemn totally the work of the 
center-left. All the more since this is just what the right and 
the communists are thinking of abundantly. Don’t forget an 
important thing: the center-left has not only had to face the 
sores inherited from fascism, it’s also had to face new phenom¬ 
ena and problems that are troubling the entire world. Think of 
what it’s meant, in the entire world, the eruption on the pub¬ 
lic scene of a younger generation that evades the control tradi¬ 
tionally applied by the schools and the family, so as to be the 
maker of its own tomorrow. Think of the new' needs of the 
workers, of the tragedy they’ve discovered with automation: 
man at the service of the machine instead of the machine at 
the service of man. Think of the sexual revolution and the way 
it’s cut into family ties. . . . 

O.F.: I agree. The center-left has found itself in power at the most 
difficult moment, with the old rules collapsing, cultural values 
changing, and humanity going through a crisis of growth. But 
other countries too have found themselves going through the 
same upsets, and still they’ve done something about it. And 
today they don’t have to use the sober words that you’ve rightly 
used: degeneration of power, corruption, weakening of ideal 

p.N. : I know. In the German Federal Republic the little coalition of 
social democrats and liberals has only a majority of five or six 
\otes. And, with those five or six Notes, Brandt has been able 
to take on problems of historical proportions, like the agree¬ 
ment Nvith the Soviet Union on the mutual renunciation of 
force, and the treaty with Poland. In Italy the center-left has a 
majority of a hundred votes and every day it gets stalled in 
front of some difficulty or other; for the most part difficulties of 
an internal kind: groups large and small, each of Nvhich claims 
a slice of power, the squandering of energies, the lack of 
courage and initiative. I sometimes Nvonder if the generation 



in the middle—namely the one between mine and the one 
now knocking at the door—hasn't arrived too easily at the 
summit of power. From the school cloisters to the power 
game, as the Frenchman Nobecourt said in his interview with 
Europeo. No, I don't pretend that behind every man there has 
to be what's behind many in my generation: the burden of the 
battle against fascism, the misfortune of having lived through 
the darkest tragedies of our century. Still . . . 

O. F.: Still some little obstacle might not have been so bad for 

them—right, Senator Nenni? They’ve all been born ministers, 
as you exclaimed one day. 

P. N.: But they have problems that give them no respite. Let's be 

just! Look at the exodus from the countryside, hundreds of 
thousands of families that burst pell-mell into the cities to find 
themselves abruptly in contact with another reality. Look at 
the dizzying growth of the schools: in eight years a student 
population that increases from less than two million to more 
than seven million, without adequate school facilities or 
teaching staffs. Look at tax reform, health, city planning, the 
regional governments to be organized. These are terrible prob¬ 
lems and they're worse in Italy than elsewhere. 

O. F. : Now will you admit to being a pessimist, Senator Nenni? 

P. N.: No. Nothing is irreparably compromised. There’s only one 

possibility before which we'd be defenseless: an economic, 
monetary crisis, a crisis of production combined with govern¬ 
ment instability. Then, yes, the dam would burst and swamp 
everything. But even this can be avoided—provided we roll up 
our sleeves, provided we carry out reforms, provided we stop 
dawdling with polemics on the new equilibriums in the sphere 
of some future historical process. I mean the one to be carried 
out in the next ten years. I’m neither a prophet nor the son of 
prophets but I say that this argument about the new equilib¬ 
riums rests on an equivocation and on a very debatable pros¬ 
pect: the development of the communist party. By losing our¬ 
selves in certain worries we run the risk of pursuing an illusion 
and destroying what's been accomplished. We risk interrupting 
the contribution the Christian Democrats have made to a pol¬ 
icy of social progress and driving them back into the arms of 
the right. 

Pietro Nenni 


O. F.: Senator Nenni, your refusal to be pessimistic would be ac¬ 

ceptable if the Socialist party were what you had imagined. 
But it’s not. It’s a divided party and one through which you 
can no longer determine events in the country. So I’m about 
to ask you a brutal, and perhaps a bad, question. When you 
succeeded in bringing about the unification, you said, “Now I 
can die in peace.” And today? 

P. N.: Today ... I look on these things with great regret but also 

without any feeling of guilt. I lost the political battle, but one 
must be able to accept defeat. All the more so at the age of 
eighty, when a man doesn’t have many chances for a come¬ 
back. To recognize defeat, however, doesn’t mean to consider 
defeat as absolute and final. I’ve made my contribution, for 
whatever it’s worth. And I’d make it again if I saw that republi¬ 
can institutions, the democratic freedom of the masses, were 
in danger. I think I’ve made an important contribution to cer¬ 
tain achievements. My greatest victory was the Republic—no 
one wanted it with a commitment equal to mine. And if I 
haven’t been successful in consolidating socialist unification, 
it’s because I thought that it had a foundation in the con¬ 
sciousness and will of the militants. Because that conscious¬ 
ness and w ill haven’t stood the test, the test of our relative lack 
of success in the 1968 elections, of the controversy over 
disengagement, of the argument over new' equilibriums. What 
do you want me to say? It’s a typically Italian phenomenon, 
this one of divisions, of schisms. No one waits for events to 
prove them right or wrong; everyone wants to be right immedi¬ 
ately. So? I wanted a party conscious of its autonomy, dedi¬ 
cated to winning over the working masses again and the posi¬ 
tions lost after the schism of 1947. I wanted a party capable of 
creating a socialist alternative within the sphere of the center- 
left. With this possibility gone, I can only hope that the 
center-left will regain awareness of itself and become deeply 
engaged in the politics of things. 

O. F.: Senator Nenni, isn’t it that the Italians arc only comfortable 

with dogmatisms and churches? 

P. N.: No, even if they’re comfortable with power, since they still 

haven’t liquidated the heritage of past centuries of servitude to 
foreigners and subordination to domestic tyranny. “I have a 

2 54 


family to support. I have six children, eight children,” they 
always tell you. And that’s one aspect of that heritage, fed by 
social insecurity at many social levels. By saying “I have a 
family to support,” they give up the struggle. Or else they give 
it up through a skeptical, corrosive intelligence that dissolves 
everything. An intelligence that’s the enemy of concreteness. 
To criticize everything and everybody is a way of criticizing 
nobody—it’s just a way of staying outside the struggle. And 
that’s something we’re very good at. But look, it’s not correct 
to say the Italians are only comfortable with dogmatisms and 
churches. To oppression and compromise they react in lively 
fashion. Or rather let’s say they always end by reacting. And 
that largely compensates for the negative heritage of a na¬ 
tional, social, and political upbringing that’s undoubtedly 
backward compared to other nations. 

O. F.: Speaking of an intelligence that dissolves things, Schlesinger 

said, in that interview in Europeo , that the real tragedy of 
modern Italy was the death of the Action party. 

P. N.: Schlesinger knew the leaders of the Action party and rightly 

esteemed it because it attracted men rich in moral and intel¬ 
lectual qualities—men who contributed in remarkable mea¬ 
sure to the struggle against fascism, to the advent of the Re¬ 
public, to the birth of the Constitution. But it was a party 
outside reality, fated not to stand up with time precisely be¬ 
cause of the kind of intelligence we mentioned: the kind that 
dissolves everything and creates nothing. Besides it had the 
misfortune to arrive at the test of power after having lost its 
most inspiring figure: Carlo Rosselli. I knew Carlo Rosselli, 
many years before the fascists murdered him and his brother 
in France. It was in 1925, after I had written my comrades a 
letter upholding the necessity of giving our battle a European 
look and not wasting ourselves on such anarchist activities as 
assassination attempts. One morning a stranger knocked at my 
door. I let him in and he said something like this: “I’m Carlo 
Rosselli, professor at the University of Genoa. I’ve read your 
letter to the leaders of the party and I liked it very much. I’m a 
rich man; I don’t have the economic problems that hinder so 
many of you. I ve come to ask you if we can work together/' 
We did work together. Together we founded Quarto Stato , 

Pietro Nenni 


the magazine to which some of the most worthy men of the 
future Action party were to contribute. But, I repeat, there was 
a dissolving spirit in their fine intelligence. And when the Ac¬ 
tion party died . . . 

O.F.: . . . those worthy men dispersed into other parties and all of 
us ended by being contaminated by the dissolving spirit of 
their fine intelligence. You in the Socialist party'first of all. Is 
that what you mean? 

p.n.: Yes, but the difficulties of the Socialist party have been of a 
different kind. The Socialist party is a borderline party, with its 
political space being undermined from left and right—in such 
conditions it's hard to defend yourself. A small step to the left 
and you risk being sucked in by the communists, a small step 
to the right and you risk being taken for a moderate. You have 
to have clear ideas if you want to defend socialism and not fall 
into the orbit of one or the other. 

O.F.: Senator Nenni, when you speak of socialism, what do you 
mean? Your socialism today is not that of fifty years ago. 

p.n.: Yes and no. Because, you see, the socialism of fifty years ago 
was directed toward projects that were in part utopian, or still 
utopian. It experienced, and then some, the reality of daily 
struggle, the struggle of the workers and peasants, but it had 
no models for the “city of tomorrow.” Today, instead, these 
models exist in concrete form. They exist in the two types of 
socialism that have been taking shape: the communist kind 
and the Swedish. The communist kind has achieved the aboli¬ 
tion of private property, but it has done so in the context of a 
society closed to every breath of individual freedom and demo¬ 
cratic life, through barrack societies where state oppression is 
fierce. The Swedish kind has led human freedom, equality 
among men, the democratic life of the masses, to the highest 
level so far achieved, but it hasn't broken the system of capital¬ 
ist ownership. I feel more at ease in Stockholm than in Lenin¬ 
grad. I think that in Stockholm there’s a new way of conceiv¬ 
ing life that you don’t find in Leningrad. Nevertheless the 
problem isn't resolved by an elementary choice—it's resolved 
by attempting a synthesis of the two experiments; I mean a sys¬ 
tem where the sociality of the means of exchange and produc¬ 
tion is combined with the greatest freedom for man. Because 



basically what is man's principal objective? To achieve the 
greatest freedom: freedom from all exploitation, from all tyr¬ 
anny. . . . But this discussion would be more suitable for a 
study club than for an interview about Italy in the 1970s. 

O.F.: I don’t think so. It should interest many Italians of the 1970s. 
It should interest all those who have realized that they’re un¬ 
able to accept scientific socialism, the dogmatic socialism that 
imposes itself by the negation of freedom. But do you think 
your socialism can be achieved? 

p.n.: Yes, even if I don’t know what concrete form it will take. And 
I say this because I’m not bothered anymore by the disease of 
setting up a future society in advance. It’s a disease that hits 
everybody, sooner or later, but of which I’m now free. Be¬ 
sides, isn’t this socialism already being realized in Italy itself 
and in a great part of the world? Look, in one century social¬ 
ism has become the driving force behind every struggle for 
freedom and equality, the impulse behind every battle for the 
independence of men and nations. It’s penetrated into the 
most diverse societies, even those where it doesn’t seem to 
exist. It’s transformed not only the conditions of life and the 
relations of classes, but also the relations between men and 
their way of thinking, of being. Why? Because, by becoming 
concrete, the very concept of socialism has taken on new char¬ 
acteristics. And it’s shown us that in democratic societies the 
state tends to become the state for everyone. In communist 
countries instead, no. The dictatorship of the proletariat was 
conceived by Marx as an exceptional form of power to be exer¬ 
cised during the transition from capitalist to socialist society. 
But in communist countries the dictatorship of the proletariat 
has become the dictatorship of the Communist party over soci¬ 
ety and the workers. And within the party it’s become the dic¬ 
tatorship of the party machine over the party. In the party 
machine it’s become the dictatorship of a charismatic leader 
like Stalin. In short, we’ve seen that even a proletarian revolu¬ 
tion, if not sustained by the spirit of democracy and freedom, 
can degenerate into bureaucracy, technocracy, police tyranny. 
The mere abolition of capitalist ownership hasn’t resolved the 
problem of socialization and of self-management for the 
means of production and exchange. It’s merged into a state 

Pietro Nenni 


capitalism that’s no different from private capitalism, or rather 
is just as oppressive and alienating as private capitalism. The 
fact is that principles are always enticing when expressed by a 
formula. We never realize that when translated into reality 
they have unforeseeable effects precisely because they emerge 
from a formula. 

O. F.; And to think that this formula, the dictatorship of the prole¬ 

tariat, has convinced so many Italians. Beginning with you. 
But didn’t you realize these things the first time you went to 

P. N.: Of course. In fact, even then I was a socialist and not a com¬ 

munist. But there was no need to go to Russia to realize these 
things. We socialists have always rejected the Soviet example. 
Before the Soviet Union became the equal of the United 
States on the level of military power, it’s true we defended the 
Bolshevik revolution. But it was because we interpreted certain 
facts as difficulties owing to the backward nature of Russian so¬ 
ciety, difficulties that emerged from the process of indus¬ 
trialization in a predominantly peasant country. What’s more, 
engaged as we were in the struggle against Nazi fascism, we 
had to seek the collaboration of the communists at home and 
the support of the Soviet Union in the international sphere. 
You’ll say to me: How’s that? What about the Moscow trials? 
And after those trials, the extermination of a great part of the 
Bolshevik group that had guided the October Revolution? 
Look, I wrote four articles in Nuovo Avanti! which we were 
publishing in Paris. In those four articles I denounced the 
Moscow trials and denied that they had any moral or juridical 
merit. But I didn’t draw drastic conclusions from them, I 
didn’t make them the reason for a resounding rupture. Why? 
Because we were in Spain together, we socialists and commu¬ 
nists—exposed to the same risks, which isn’t important, politi¬ 
cally tied to the success or lack of success of the Spanish Civil 
War, and that’s very important. We knew our victory would 
be a very hard blow against Nazi fascism, that our defeat 
would accelerate Hitler’s race toward war. And the rifles we 
were shooting were Soviet rifles, the few tanks we had avail¬ 
able were of Soviet make. There was only Russia to help us— 
France and England sympathized only with words. The shock 

2 5 8 


came later. It came with Hungary. And it was a really violent 
shock. The only thing I had never believed was that a commu¬ 
nist country could crush a people’s movement with tanks, a 
movement that had exploded out of a need for freedom. 

O. F.: And it was then that you returned your Stalin Peace Prize. 

P. N.: “Returned” is a verb I don’t like because it presupposes a the¬ 

atrical gesture that doesn’t go with my temperament. Let’s put 
it this way: I’d received that prize in 1952, and when the crisis 
broke out in Hungary, parallel with the crisis in the Middle 
East, it seemed to me that the prize given me for peace ought 
to be used for peace. Therefore I donated the sum of money to 
the International Red Cross, for the Hungarian refugees and 
for the victims of the Anglo-French war in Egypt. But what 
good does it do to talk about it? 

O. F.: It goes to show that in Italy there are still a few honorable 

men. And getting back to Italy, how do you see its place in the 
European context? 

P. N.: To speak of Italy in the European context means to speak of 

Europe itself. And when Joseph Alsop says that Europe doesn’t 
exist, Europe doesn’t count, he’s unfortunately speaking a bit¬ 
ter truth. I too think that the future of the world today is no 
longer decided in Europe. As furthermore it’s not decided only 
in America. By now there’s an Asian component that Euro¬ 
peans and Americans must take into account, and I’m not 
speaking only of China. I’m speaking of Japan, of India. 
Europe would have had an immense role in the world if it had 
realized its political and economic unity—the great idea that 
emerged from the Second World War. But twenty-five years 
have gone by and Europe has not been united nor is it about 
to be. The particular interests of individual states have pre¬ 
vailed over the community of interests, and, on the other 
hand, how can we fail to understand it in an Italy where not 
even the municipal particularisms between Catanzaro and 
Reggio Calabria, Aquila and Pescara, can be overcome? Par¬ 
ticularism in the face of European unity began in England. 
Then it spread to France and became De Gaulle’s historical 
error. From this standpoint, De Gaulle did great harm to 
Europe, and to France as well. True, he avoided painful 
trials—he was probably the only one who could have liqui- 

Pietro Nenni 


dated the terrible Algerian adventure. But taken all together, 
his action was a backward one. Backward in the area of free¬ 
dom, of democracy, of foreign policy. And that Europe did 
not unite was also partly his fault. 

O. F.: You knew him too, didn't you? 

P. N.: Yes, I knew him immediately after the war, when we took up 

the subject of the peace treaty with Italy together. A complex 
man. I don't say fascinating, because he was too conde¬ 
scending in talking to people—that couldn’t fail to be irritat¬ 
ing. But on the problems of our frontiers I found him very 
open. On the Val d'Aosta, for instance, he had rejected the 
suggestions of the military men and politicians who demanded 
its annexation by France. He'd accepted the same suggestions 
on Briga and Tenda, he told me, because a “moral sanction” 
was necessary against Italy for having unjustifiably entered the 
war against France. Look, there's one Gaullism to which I'm 
faithful, and it’s the one of June 18, 1940, when De Gaulle 
rebelled against the unconditional surrender of France. But 
there's a Gaullism I can’t accept and it’s the one of 1958: the 
survival of the monarchical conception of the state. That too 
produced De Gaulle's aversion for the unity of Europe. You’ll 
tell me: But he said no to NATO. In order to say no to 
NATO, he should have said yes to European unity. By them¬ 
selves, the individual European countries are no longer capa¬ 
ble of withdrawing from the influence of one bloc or the 
other. If today the world is more or less divided up between 
the United States and the Soviet Union on the basis of the 
status quo, it’s precisely because we weren’t able to create a 
united Europe. On that I have no doubts. 

O.F.: Senator Nenni, to what degree has your life been marked by 

p.n.: To a great degree, always. I carry doubt inside me, sometimes 
even in exaggerated form. Once I had an argument with 
Gramsci about doubt. And it seems to me that Renan says, 
“Without the presence of doubt, we lose the exact evaluation 
of events and things; the mania for certainty is the approach to 
fanaticism.” By the mania for certainty you end by not allow'- 
ing the opinions of others. I instead have always been ready to 
listen to the opinions of others and to look for positive ele- 



ments in them. Doubt suits me because it requires freedom 
and doesn’t necessarily involve the loss of faith, of the will to 
fight. Even with all the inevitable mistakes. 

O. F.: And the inevitable sorrows, the inevitable resignation, the in¬ 

evitable bitterness. All things that you have had and have in 
abundance. Senator Nenni, have you ever wondered if it was 
worth the trouble? 

P. N.: Never. Not even now when my life is almost over. When I 

look back and think of the ideals of my youth, of the price I’ve 
paid, I have no regrets. Because I believe I’ve simply done 
what I had to do, and because it’s worth the trouble to fight for 
a more just humanity. It’s worth the trouble, believe me. I’ve 
seen a good three generations grow up before my eyes: mine, 
that of my children, that of my grandchildren. Looking at 
them, I think: These decades of struggle haven’t been in vain; 
today people are so much better off than they were in my 
time. Yes, life is infinitely less harsh today. There’s no com¬ 
parison with the world in which I was born, and let’s not speak 
of the world in which my father and grandfather were born. 
We’re at such a much higher level of civic life; we’ve achieved 
such formidable progress in every area. Even in that of free¬ 
dom. You seem to me bewildered by this Italy, so full of fer¬ 
ment and discontent. And I understand you. In fact, I’ll say 
more. Every bewildered person ought to be an alarm bell to 
which we ought to listen, while all too often, we don’t listen to 
it. But look here. When you analyze sector by sector, bit by 
bit, thing by thing, it looks as though everything’s about to 
collapse. Examining the whole, you realize the structure is on 
its feet. 

O.F.: Then why such fears, such violence, such rejection of what’s 
been done? 

p.n.: Because once a problem is solved, another immediately arises. 
Or others. It’s a characteristic of man. Man never accepts the 
status quo, he never arrives at saying, “I have no more prob¬ 
lems.” He’d be in trouble if he did. Everything would sink in 
the mud, become debased, and would come to lack the im¬ 
pulse that makes life acceptable. Namely, the constant search 
for something better. My dear friend, life should be looked at 
with the pessimism of intelligence, with the critical sense of 

Pietro Nenni 


doubt, but also with the optimism of the will. When there’s a 
will, nothing is fatal, nothing is inevitable, nothing is 
unchangeable. 1 told you at the beginning: I believe in man. 
Man the creator of his own destiny. 

O.F.: Thank you, Senator Nenni. 

Rome , April 1971 


Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 

The shah was standing and waiting for me in the middle of the 
magnificent salon that serves him as an office. He made no reply to 
the little speech by which 1 thanked him for granting me the inter¬ 
view and in silence, very coldly, extended his right hand. His 
handshake was stiff. Still more stiffly he asked me to be seated. And 
everything took place wordlessly, without a smile. His lips were as 
sealed as a locked door, his eyes as icy as a winter wind. You might 
have said he was trying to reproach me for something, and I had no 
idea what it was. Or was he simply inhibited by shyness, by anxiety 
not to lose his regal tone? Once 1 was seated, he too sat down: legs 
together and arms crossed, torso rigid (because of the bulletproof 
vest, I suppose, that he always wears). 

Thus rigid he stared at me, remote, while I related the incident 
that had happened at the gate, where his bodyguard had stopped 
me and almost made me late for the appointment. 1 finally heard 
his voice when he replied that he was very sorry but that certain 
mistakes happened out of an excess of zeal. It was a sad, tired 
voice. Almost a voiceless voice. His face was also sad and tired. 
Under his white hair, woolly as a fur cap, only his enormous nose 
stood out. As for his body, it looked so fragile under the double- 
breasted gray suit, so thin, that I promptly asked him if he felt well. 
Very well, he replied; he'd never felt better. The news that his 


Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 263 

health was in danger was devoid of foundation, and he had wanted 
to lose weight because he was getting a little too fat. 

We had gotten off on the wrong foot, and it took a lot to warm 
up the atmosphere. Now that I think of it, I succeeded only when I 
asked if I might light the cigarette that I'd been craving for half an 
hour. “You could have said so before. I've given up cigarettes 
myself, but I like the smell of tobacco, the smell of smoke." At this 
point tea was brought in, served in gold cups with gold teaspoons. 
But almost everything in the place was gold: the ashtray that you 
didn’t dare dirty, the box inlaid with emeralds, the knickknacks 
covered with rubies and sapphires, the corners of the table. And in 
that absurd and irritating glare of gold, emeralds, rubies, and sap¬ 
phires, I sat for about two hours, trying to fathom His Majesty. 
Then, suspecting that I had fathomed nothing, I asked if I might 
see him again. He agreed, and our second meeting took place four 
days later. 

This time His Majesty was more cordial. To please me, I sup¬ 
pose, he had put on a gaudy Italian necktie, and the conversation 
flowed easily, if somewhat ruffled on his side by the fear that I 
might be on his police blacklist. The fear struck him when I had 
qualified one of my questions by explaining that my book on Viet¬ 
nam, Nothing , and So Be It, had been banned from the bookstores 
of Teheran during Nixon’s visit. At this information he had jumped 
up as though pricked by a knife through his bulletproof vest. His 
look had become restless, hostile—for God’s sake, was I therefore a 
dangerous character? Some moments went by before he decided to 
overcome the dilemma in the only way possible, namely, by relin¬ 
quishing his excessive composure. Thus his smile opened up and, 
amidst smiles, we talked about the authoritarian regime in which 
he believes, of his relations w'ith the United States and the USSR, 
of his oil policy. Yes, we talked about everything. Only after I had 
left did I realize that we had not spoken of the martial crisis that he 
was said to be going through with Farah Diba. He had only denied 
to me, with anger and indignation, that he had secretly remarried. 

I also realized that I still knew very’ little about him, perhaps less 
than before; despite three hours of questions and answers, the man 
remained a mystery. So it is not easy for me to define his character. 



It is, like Bhutto’s, a character in which the most paradoxical con¬ 
flicts merge to reward you for your pains with an enigma. He 
believes in prophetic dreams, for example, in visions, in a childish 
mysticism, and then goes on to discuss oil like an expert (which he 
is). He governs like an absolute monarch, for example, and then 
refers to his people in the tone of one who believes in them and 
loves them, by leading a White Revolution that would seem to be 
making an effort to combat illiteracy and the feudal system. He 
considers women as simply graceful ornaments, incapable of think¬ 
ing like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of 
rights and duties. Indeed, in a society where women still wear the 
veil, he even orders girls to perform military service. 

So who is this Mohammed Riza Pahlavi who for over thirty years 
has been seated solidly on the most scorching throne in the world? 
Does he belong to the era of flying carpets or to that of computers? 
Is he a relic of the Prophet Mohammed or an adjunct of the Abadan 
oil wells? My suspicion is that he is a highly dangerous megalo¬ 
maniac, because he combines the worst of the old and the worst of 
the new, not only to the detriment of his own people but of others 
as well, Europe in particular. Also, thanks to his foolish visions, he 
is too firmly convinced of being the reincarnation of Darius and 
Xerxes, sent to this earth by God to rebuild their lost empire. 

In a brilliant short story of political fantasy, the writer Paul Erd- 
man calls him insane and attributes to him the dream of provoking 
and winning the Third World War. History will tell if this judg¬ 
ment is excessive. But meanwhile the hypotheses formulated by 
Erdman seem to me entirely possible. Does not Mohammed Riza 
Pahlavi have at his disposal the most long-lasting oil wells existing 
in the world and an army that for the moment lacks only the 
atomic bomb? What is to keep him, with his oil and his army, 
from occupying, for example, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, es¬ 
tablishing himself on all the shores of the Persian Gulf, supplanting 
the United States and the Soviet Union, and neutralizing both? 
Has he not already begun his invasion of the West by trying to buy, 
among other things, Pan American and Fiat? 

We Europeans were naive, indeed superficial, in our underes¬ 
timation of him, seeing him as a sad and harmless monarch who 
spent his time agonizing over the lack of an heir. In our superfi¬ 
ciality and naivete, we created a figure that did not exist, and rel- 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


egated him, with his courtships, his engagements, his marriages, 
divorces, adulteries, and promenades in Rome and Saint-Moritz, to 
the pages of the scandal sheets. Nearsighted, incapable of seeing 
beyond this fapade, we never took the trouble to put on our eye¬ 
glasses and see anything else. For instance, his country's prisons 
and concentration camps overflowing with political prisoners, the 
jail cells where they were tortured by medieval means, the court¬ 
yards of the barracks where they were shot dozens at a time, under 
a hellish, ruthless dictatorship where even to utter the word democ¬ 
racy was a mortal sin. We didn't even bother to count his oil wells, 
which were spreading like wildfire and increasingly fortifying his 
power at home and abroad. Today, in effect, we are paying the 
price for our myopia. 

I will never forget Riza Pahlavi curtly raising his forefinger, while 
his eyes glared with hatred, to impress on me that the price of oil 
would go up, up, up, tenfold. And from the nausea I felt before 
that gaze and that finger, there remains to me today one small satis¬ 
faction: to have made him uncomfortable at the moment in which 
he understood that he had made a mistake in receiving me. 
(“You’re not on the blacklist?” “I’m on everybody’s blacklist.”) 
Then, the pleasure of discovering that even this Majesty could 
behave without majesty. When the interview was published, Riza 
Pahlavi went all out to get me to disavow his remark that the price 
of oil would go up, up, up, tenfold. Indignantly I refused. He 
reacted by stating that I had invented it. And then a little later he 
went ahead and raised the price. 

ORIANA fallaci: First of all, Majesty, I’d like to talk about yourself 
and your position as king. There are so few kings left, and I 
can’t get out of my head something you said in another inter¬ 
view': “If I could do it over again, I’d be a violinist, or a 
surgeon, or an archaeologist, or a polo player. . . . Anything 
but a king.” 

mohammed riza pahlavi: I don’t remember having said those 
words, but if I did, I w r as referring to the fact that a king’s job is 
a big headache. So it often happens that a king gets fed up 
with being king. It happens to me too. But that doesn’t mean 
I’d give it up—I have too much belief in what I am and what 



I'm doing for that. You see . . . when you say there are so 
few kings left, you’re implying a question to which I can only 
give one answer. When you don’t have monarchy, you have 
anarchy or oligarchy or dictatorship. And anyway monarchy is 
the only possible way of governing Iran. If I’ve been able to do 
something, or rather a lot, for Iran, it’s due to the small detail 
that I happen to be king. To get things done you need power, 
and to keep power you shouldn’t have to ask permission or ad¬ 
vice from anybody. You shouldn’t have to discuss your deci¬ 
sions with anyone and . . . Naturally, I may have made mis¬ 
takes too. I too am human. But I still believe I have a mission 
to carry out to the end, and I intend to carry it out to the end 
without giving up my throne. You can’t foresee the future, of 
course, but I’m convinced the monarchy in Iran will last 
longer than your regimes. Or should I say that your regimes 
won’t last and mine will? 

O.F.: Majesty, how many times have they tried to kill you? 

M.R.P.: Twice, officially. And then . . . God only knows. But 
what does it matter? I don’t live with the obsession of being 
killed. Really. I never think about it. There was a time when I 
did. Fifteen years ago, for instance. I said to myself, Oh, why 
go to that place? What if they’ve planned to assassinate me and 
they kill me? Oh, why take that plane? What if they’ve planted 
a bomb and it goes off in flight? Not any more. Now the fear 
of dying is something I don’t feel. And courage and defiance 
have nothing to do with it. Such equanimity comes from a 
kind of fatalism, from blind faith in the fact that nothing can 
happen to me until the day I’ve carried out my mission to the 
end. Yes, I’ll stay alive until such time as I finish what I have 
to finish. And that day has been set by God, not by those who 
want to kill me. 

O.F.: Then why are you so sad, Majesty? I may be wrong, but you 
always have such a sad and worried look. 

m.r.p.: Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m a sad man at heart. But my 
sadness is a mystical one, I think. A sadness that comes from 
my mystical side. I wouldn’t know how else to explain it, since 
there’s no reason why I should be sad. I now have everything I 
wanted as a man and as a king. I really have everything, my 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 267 

life goes forward like a beautiful dream. Nobody in the world 
should be happier than I, and yet . . . 

O.F. : And yet a cheerful smile on your part is rarer than a shooting 
star. Don't you ever laugh, Majesty? 
m.r.p.: Only when something funny happens to me. But it has to 
be something really very funny. Which doesn't happen often. 
No, I'm not one of those people who laugh at everything silly, 
but you must understand that my life has always been so dif¬ 
ficult, so exhausting. Just think of what I had to put up with 
during the first twelve years of my reign. Rome in 1953 . . . 
Mossadegh . . . remember? And I'm not even referring to my 
personal sufferings—I’m referring to my sufferings as a king. 
Besides I can't separate the man from the king. Before being a 
man, I'm a king. A king whose destiny is swayed by a mission 
to be accomplished. And the rest doesn't count. 

O.F.: My goodness, it must be a great nuisance! I mean, it must be 
pretty lonely being a king instead of a man. 
m.r.p.: I don't deny I’m lonely. Deeply so. A king, when he doesn't 
have to account to anyone for what he says and does, is inevi¬ 
tably very much alone. But I’m not entirely alone because I'm 
accompanied by a force that others can't see. My mystical 
force. And then I get messages. Religious messages. I'm very, 
very religious. I believe in God, and I've always said that if 
God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Oh, I 
feel so sorry for those poor souls who don’t have God. You 
can’t live without God. I've lived with God ever since the age 
of five. That is, since God gave me those visions. 

O.F.: Visions, Majesty? 
m.r.p,: Yes, visions. Apparitions. 

O.F. : Of what? Of whom? 

m.r.p.: Of prophets. Oh, I'm surprised you don't know about it. 
Everyone knows I’ve had visions. I even wrote it in my auto¬ 
biography. As a child I had two visions. One when I was five 
and one when I was six. The first time, I saw our Prophet Ali, 
he who, according to our religion, disappeared to return on 
the day when he would save the world. I had an accident—I 
fell against a rock. And he saved me—he placed himself be¬ 
tween me and the rock. I know because I saw him. And not in 



a dream—in reality. Material reality, if you see what I mean. I 
was the only one who saw him. The person who was with me 
didn't see him at all. But no one else was supposed to see him 
except me because . . . Oh, I'm afraid you don't understand 

O.F.: Indeed I don't, Majesty. I don't understand you at all. We 
had got off to such a good start, and instead now . . . This 
business of visions, of apparitions . . . It's not clear to me, 
that’s all. 

m.r.p.: Because you don't believe. You don’t believe in God, you 
don't believe me. Many people don't. Even my father didn't 
believe it. He never believed it, he always laughed about it. 
Anyway many people, albeit respectfully, ask if I didn't ever 
suspect it was a fantasy. My answer is no. No, because I 
believe in God, in the fact of having been chosen by God to 
accomplish a mission. My visions were miracles that saved the 
country. My reign has saved the country and it's saved it 
because God was beside me. I mean, it's not fair for me to 
take all the credit for myself for the great things that I've done 
for Iran. Mind you, I could. But I don’t want to, because I 
know that there was someone else behind me. It was God. Do 
you see what I mean? 

O.F.: No, Majesty. Because . . . well, did you have these visions 
only as a child, or have you also had them later as an adult? 

m.r.p. : I told you, only as a child. Never as an adult—only dreams. 
At intervals of one or two years. Or even every seven or eight 
years. For instance, I once had two dreams in the span of fif¬ 
teen years. 

O.F.: What dreams, Majesty? 

m.r.p.: Religious dreams. Based on my mysticism. Dreams in 
which I saw what would happen in two or three months, and 
that happened just that way in two or three months. But what 
these dreams were about, I can't tell you. They didn't have to 
do with me personally; they had to do with domestic problems 
of the country and so should be considered as state secrets. But 
perhaps you'd understand better if instead of the word dreams I 
used the word presentiments. I believe in presentiments too. 
Some believe in reincarnation, I believe in presentiments. I 
have continuous presentiments, as strong as my instinct. Even 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


the day when they shot at me from a distance of six feet, it was 
my instinct that saved me. Because, instinctively, while the as¬ 
sassin was emptying his revolver at me, 1 did what in boxing is 
called shadow' dancing. And a fraction of a second before he 
aimed at my heart, I moved aside in such a way that the bullet 
went into my shoulder. A miracle. 1 also believe in miracles. 
When you think I’ve been wounded by a good five bullets, 
one in the face, one in the shoulder, one in the head, two in 
the body, and that the last one stuck in the barrel because the 
trigger jammed . . . You have to believe in miracles. I’ve had 
so many air disasters, and yet I’ve always come out un¬ 
scathed—thanks to a miracle willed by God and the prophets. I 
see you’re incredulous. 

O.F.: More than incredulous, I’m confused. I’m confused, Majesty, 
because . . . Well, because I find myself talking to a person I 
hadn’t foreseen. I knew nothing about these miracles, these 
visions ... I came here to talk about oil, about Iran, about 
you. . . . Even about your marriages, your divorces. . . . 
Not to change the subject, but those divorces must have been 
quite dramatic. Weren’t they, Majesty? 

m.r.p.: It’s hard to say because my life has gone forward under the 
sign of destiny, and when my personal feelings have had to 
suffer, I’ve always protected myself with the thought that a par¬ 
ticular pain was willed by fate. You can’t rebel against destiny 
when you have a mission to accomplish. And in a king, per¬ 
sonal feelings don’t count. A king never cries over himself. He 
hasn’t the right. A king means first of all duty', and I’ve always 
had such a strong sense of duty. For instance, when my father 
told me, “You’re to marry Princess Fawzia of Egypt," it didn’t 
even occur to me to object or say, “I don’t know’ her." I agreed 
at once because it was my duty to agree at once. One is either 
a king or one isn’t. If one is a king, one must bear all the re¬ 
sponsibilities and all the burdens of being a king, without giv¬ 
ing in to the regrets or claims or sorrows of ordinary mortals. 

O.F.: Let’s skip the case of Princess Fawzia, Majesty, and take that 
of Princess Soraya. You chose her yourself as your wife. So 
didn’t it hurt you to repudiate her? 

m.r.p.: Well . . . yes. . . . For a while, yes. I can actually say 
that, for a certain period of time, it was one of the greatest sor- 



rows of my life. But reason prevailed very soon, and I asked 
myself the following question: What must I do for my coun¬ 
try? And the answer was find another spouse with whom to 
share my destiny and from whom to ask for an heir to the 
throne. In other words, my feelings are never focused on pri¬ 
vate matters but on royal duties. I’ve always trained myself not 
to be concerned with myself but with my country and my 
throne. But let's not talk of such things—of my divorces, and 
so forth. I'm far above, too far above, these matters. 

O.F.: Naturally, Majesty. But there's one thing I can't help asking, 
since I think it ought to be cleared up. Majesty, is it true 
you've taken another wife? Ever since the day the German 
press published the news . . . 

m.r.p.: Slander, not news, and it was spread around by the French 
press agency after it had been published by the Palestinian 
newspaper A/ Mohar for obvious reasons. A stupid, vile, 
disgusting slander. I'll only tell you that the photograph of the 
woman who's supposed to be my fourth wife is a photograph 
of my niece, the daughter of my twin sister. My niece, who 
besides is married and has a child. Yes, some of the press 
would do anything to discredit me—it's run by unscrupulous, 
immoral people. But how can they say that I, I who wanted 
the law by which it's forbidden to take more than one wife, 
have got married again and secretly? It’s unthinkable, it's intol¬ 
erable, it's shameful. 

O.F.: Majesty, but you're a Muslim. Your religion allows you to 
take another wife without repudiating the Empress Farah 

m.r.p.: Yes, of course. According to my religion, I could, so long 
as the queen gave her consent. And to be honest, one must 
admit there are cases when . . . For instance, when a wife is 
sick, or doesn't want to fulfill her wifely duties, thereby caus¬ 
ing her husband unhappiness . . . after all! You'd have to be 
hypocritical or naive to think a husband would tolerate such a 
thing. In your society, when a circumstance of that kind 
arises, doesn't a man take a mistress, or more than one? Well, 
in our society, a man can take another wife. So long as the first 
wife consents and the court approves. Without those two con¬ 
ditions on which I based my law, however, the new marriage 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


can’t take place. So I, I myself, should have broken the law by 
getting married in secret?! And to whom?! My niece?! My sis¬ 
ter’s daughter?! Listen, I don’t even want to discuss anything 
so vulgar. I refuse to talk about it another minute. 

O.F.: All right. Let’s not talk about it any more. Let’s say you deny 
everything, Majesty, and . . . 

M.R.P.: I deny nothing. I don’t even take the trouble to deny it. 1 
don’t even want to be quoted in a denial. 

O.F.: How come? If you don’t deny it, people will go on saying the 
marriage has taken place. 

m.r.p.: I’ve already had my embassies issue a denial! 

O.F.: And nobody believed it. So the denial must come from you, 

m.r.p.: But the act of denying it debases me, offends me, because 
the matter is of no importance to me. Does it seem right to 
you that a sovereign of my stature, a sovereign with my prob¬ 
lems, should lower himself to deny his marriage with his 
niece? Disgusting! Disgusting! Does it seem right to you that a 
king, that an emperor of Persia should waste time talking 
about such things? Talking about wives, women? 

O.F.: How strange, Majesty, If there’s one monarch who’s always 
been talked about in relation to women, it’s you. And now I’m 
beginning to suspect that women have counted for nothing in 
your life. 

m.r.p.: Here I’m really afraid you’ve made a correct observation. 
Because the things that have counted in my life, the things 
that have left their mark on me, have been quite different. 
Certainly not my marriages, certainly not women. Women, 
you know . . . Look, let’s put it this way. I don’t underrate 
them; they’ve profited more than anyone else from my White 
Revolution. I’ve fought strenuously so that they’d have equal 
rights and responsibilities. I’ve even put them in the army, 
where they get military training for six months and are then 
sent to the villages to fight the battle against illiteracy. And 
let’s not forget I’m the son of the man who took away women’s 
veils in Iran. But I wouldn’t be sincere if I stated I’d been in¬ 
fluenced by a single one of them. Nobody can influence me, 
nobody. Still less a woman. Women are important in a man’s 
life only if they’re beautiful and charming and keep their femi- 



ninity and . . . This business of feminism, for instance. What 
do these feminists want? What do you want? You say equality. 
Oh! 1 don't want to seem rude, but . . . You're equal in the 
eyes of the law but not, excuse my saying so, in ability. 

O.F.: No, Majesty? 

M.R.P.: No. You've never produced a Michelangelo or a Bach. 
You’ve never even produced a great chef. And if you talk to 
me about opportunity, all I can say is, are you joking? Have 
you ever lacked the opportunity to give history a great chef? 
You’ve produced nothing great, nothing! Tell me, how many 
women capable of governing have you met in the course of 
your interviews? 

O.F.: At least two, Majesty. Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi. 

M.R.P.: Who knows? . . . All I can say is that women, when they 
govern, are much harsher than men. Much crueler. Much 
more bloodthirsty. I’m citing facts, not opinions. You're heart¬ 
less when you have power. Think of Catherine de Medicis, 
Catherine of Russia, Elizabeth I of England. Not to mention 
your Lucrezia Borgia, with her poisons and intrigues. You're 
schemers, you're evil. All of you. 

O.F.: I'm surprised, Majesty, because it’s you who appointed the 
Empress Farah Diba regent should the crown prince accede to 
the throne while still a minor. 

m.r.p.: Hm . . . well . . . Yes, if my son should become king 
before the required age, Queen Farah Diba would become 
regent. But there'd also be a council with which she’d have to 
consult. I, on the other hand, have no obligation to consult 
with anyone, and I don't consult with anyone. See the dif¬ 

O.F.: I see it. But the fact remains that your wife would be regent. 
And if you took this decision, Majesty, it means you think 
she’s capable of governing. 

m.r.p.: Hm. ... In any case, that’s what I thought when 1 took 
the decision. And . . . we're not here just to talk about this, 
are we? 

O.F.: Certainly not. Besides I haven’t even begun to ask you the 
things that interest me most, Majesty. For example, when I try 
to talk about you, here in Teheran, people lock themselves in 

Mohammed Riwa Pahlavi 273 

a fearful silence. They don’t even dare pronounce your name, 
Majesty. Why is that? 

m.r.p.: Out of an excess of respect, I suppose. With me, in fact, 
they don’t behave like that at all. When I returned from 
America, I drove through the city in an open car, and from 
the airport to the palace I was wildly applauded, by at least a 
million people overcome with enthusiasm. They cheered, 
they shouted patriotic slogans, they were by no means locked 
in silence as you say. Nothing has changed since the day I 
became king and the people lifted my car on their shoulders 
and carried it for three miles. Yes, it was three miles from the 
house where I lived to the building where I was to take my 
oath to the Constitution. And I was riding in that car. After a 
few yards the people lifted the car like a sedan chair and 
rried it on their shoulders for a good three miles. What was 
your question supposed to mean? That they’re all against me? 

O.F. : God forbid, Majesty. I meant only what I said. Here in Te¬ 
heran people are so afraid of you they don’t even dare pro¬ 
nounce your name. 

m.r.p.: And why should they talk about me to a foreigner? I don’t 
see what you’re referring to. 

O.F. : I’m referring to the fact, Majesty, that many people consider 
you a dictator. 

m.r.p.: That’s what they write in Le Monde. And what do I care? I 
work for my people. I don’t work for Le Monde. 

O.F.: Yes, yes, but would you deny you’re a very authoritarian king? 

m.r.p.: No, I wouldn’t deny it, because in a certain sense I am. But 
look, to carry through reforms, one can’t help but be authori¬ 
tarian. Especially when the reforms take place in a country 
like Iran, where only twenty-five percent of the inhabitants 
know how to read and write. You mustn’t forget that illiteracy 
is drastic here—it’ll take at least ten years to eliminate it. And 
I don’t say to eliminate it for everyone—I say to eliminate it 
for those who today are under the age of fifty. Believe me, 
when three-quarters of a nation doesn’t know how to read or 
write, you can provide for reforms only by the strictest authori¬ 
tarianism—otherwise you get nowhere. If I hadn’t been harsh, 
1 wouldn’t even have been able to carry out agrarian reform 



and my whole reform program would have been stalemated. 
Once that had happened, the extreme left would have liqui¬ 
dated the extreme right within a few hours, and it’s not only 
the White Revolution that would have been finished. I had to 
do what I did. For instance, order my troops to open fire on 
anyone opposing the distribution of land. So to say that in Iran 
there’s no democracy . . . 

O.F.: Is there, Majesty? 

M.R.P.: I assure you, there is. I assure you that in many ways Iran is 
more democratic than your countries in Europe. Aside from 
the fact that the peasants own their land, that the workers par¬ 
ticipate in the management of the factories, that the large in¬ 
dustrial complexes are owned by the state instead of private in¬ 
dividuals, you should know that elections here begin in the 
villages and take place at local, municipal, and provincial lev¬ 
els. In Parliament, of course, there are only two parties. But 
they’re the ones that accept the twelve points of my White 
Revolution, and how many parties ought to represent the 
ideology of my White Revolution? Besides those are the only 
two that are able to get enough votes—the minorities are so 
negligible, so ridiculous in size that they wouldn’t even be 
able to elect a deputy'. And be that as it may, I don’t want cer¬ 
tain minorities to elect any deputies. Just as I won’t allow the 
Communist party'. The communists are outlawed in Iran. 
They only want to destroy, destroy, destroy, and they swear 
allegiance to others instead of to their country and their king. 
They’re traitors, and I’d be crazy to let them exist. 

O.F.: Maybe I explained myself badly, Majesty. I meant democracy 
as we understand it in the West, namely, a regime that per¬ 
mits anyone to think as he likes and is based on a parliament 
where even minorities are represented. . . . 
m.r.p.: But I don’t want that kind of democracy! Don’t you under¬ 
stand? I wouldn’t know what to do with such a democracy! It’s 
all yours, you can have it! Your wonderful democracy! You’ll 
see, in a few years, where your wonderful democracy leads. 
O.F.: Well, maybe it’s a little chaotic. But it’s the only thing possi¬ 
ble if you respect man and his freedom of thought. 
m.r.p.: Freedom of thought, freedom of thought! Democracy, de- 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


mocracy! With five-year-old children going on strike and 
parading through the streets. That’s democracy? That’s free¬ 

O.F.: Yes, Majesty. 

M.R.P.: Well, not to me. And let me add: how much studying have 
you done in the last few years in your universities? And if you 
go on not studying in your universities, how will you be able 
to keep up with the needs of technology? Won’t you become 
servants of the Americans thanks to your lack of preparation, 
won’t you become third- or even fourth-rate countries? De¬ 
mocracy freedom democracy! But what do these w'ords mean? 

O.F.: Excuse me if I take the liberty of saying it, Majesty. But in my 
opinion they mean, for example, not removing certain books 
from bookstores when Nixon comes to Teheran. I know r that 
my book on Vietnam was removed from the bookstores when 
Nixon came here and put back only after he’d left. 
m.r.p.: What? 

O.F.: Yes, yes. 

m.r.p.: But you’re not on the blacklist, are you? 

O.F.: Here in Teheran? I don’t know. It could be. I’m on every¬ 
body’s blacklist. 

m.r.p.: Hm. . . . And here I’m receiving you in the palace, and 
you’re here sitting next to me. . . . 

O.F.: Which is very kind of you, Majesty'. 

m.r.p.: Hm. ... It certainly shows we have democracy and free¬ 
dom here. . . . 

O.F.: It certainly does. But I’d like to ask you something, Majesty. 
I’d like to ask you: if I were an Iranian instead of an Italian, 
and lived here and thought as I do and wrote as I do, I mean if 
I were to criticize you, would you throw me in jail? 

m.r.p.: Probably. If what you thought and wTOte went counter to 
our laws, you’d be put on trial. 

O.F.: Really? And sentenced too? 

m.r.p.: I think so. Naturally. But, between ourselves, I don’t think 
you'd find it easy to criticize or attack me in Iran. What would 
you criticize or attack me for? For my foreign policy? For my 
oil policy? For having distributed land to the peasants? For 
allowing workers to share in profits up to twenty percent and to 



be able to buy stock up to forty-nine percent? For fighting illit¬ 
eracy and disease? For having brought progress to a country 
where there was little or none? 

O.F.: No, no. Not for that, Majesty. Fd attack you . . . let's see. 1 
know: for the repression carried out against students and intel¬ 
lectuals in Iran, for example. I've been told the prisons are so 
full that new arrests have to be put in army camps. Is that 
true? But how many political prisoners are there in Iran today? 

M.R.P.: I don't know exactly. It depends on what you mean by the 
expression political prisoners. If you're speaking of the com¬ 
munists, for instance, I don’t consider them political prisoners 
because it's forbidden by law to be a communist. Therefore a 
communist to me is not a political prisoner but a common 
criminal. If then you mean those whose actions result in the 
death of old people, women, innocent children, it's all the 
more obvious that I don't even consider them political pris¬ 
oners. To them, I show no mercy. Oh, I've always pardoned 
those who've tried to kill me, but I've never had the slightest 
pity for those criminals you call guerrillas or for traitors to the 
country. They’re the sort of people who are capable of killing 
my son if only to plot against public safety. They’re people to 
be eliminated. 

O.F.: In fact, you have them shot, don't you? 

m.r.p.: Those who have killed people, of course. They’re shot. But 
not because they’re communists—because they're terrorists. 
Communists are simply sentenced to prison, for terms that 
may vary from a few to several years. Oh, I can imagine what 
you think about the death penalty, and so forth. But, you see, 
certain opinions depend on the type of education one has had, 
on culture, on climate, and you shouldn't take it for granted 
that what goes for one country goes for them all. Take an 
apple seed and plant it in Teheran, then take another seed 
from the same apple and plant it in Rome—the tree that grows 
in Teheran will never be the same as the tree that grows in 
Rome. Here it's right and necessary to shoot certain people. 
Pietism is absurd here. 

O.F.: While listening to you, I was wondering something, Majesty. 
I was wondering what you think of the death of Allende. 

M.R.P.: Here's what I think. I think his death teaches us a lesson; 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


you must be one thing or the other, be on one side or the 
other, if you want to accomplish something and win. Middle- 
of-the-road compromises aren’t possible. In other words, either 
you’re a revolutionary or else you insist on law and order—you 
can’t be a law-and-order revolutionary. Much less a tolerant 
one. And if Allende wanted to rule in accordance with his 
Marxist ideas, why didn’t he organize himself better? When 
Castro came to power, he killed at least ten thousand people, 
while all of you said, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!’’ Well, in a certain 
sense he deserved the bravos since he’s still in power. But then 
so am I. And I plan on staying there by showing that with 
force you can do a lot of things, and I’ll even prove that your 
socialism is finished. Old, obsolete, finished. People were talk¬ 
ing about socialism a hundred years ago; they were writing 
about it a hundred years ago. Today it no longer goes with 
modern technology. 1 achieve more than the Swedes, and in 
fact can’t you see that even in Sweden the socialists are losing 
ground? Ah! Swedish socialism! ... It hasn’t even national¬ 
ized forests and water. I have. 

O.F. : Again, Majesty, I don’t understand. Are you telling me that in 
a certain sense you’re a socialist, and that your socialism is 
more modern and advanced than the Scandinavian kind? 

m.r.p.: Of course. Because that socialism means a system of social 
security for those who don’t work and nevertheless receive a 
salary at the end of the month like those who do work. The so¬ 
cialism of my White Revolution, on the other hand, is an in¬ 
centive to work. It’s a new, original socialism, and . . . be¬ 
lieve me, in Iran we’re much more advanced than you and 
really have nothing to learn from you. But these are things 
you Europeans will never write—the international press is so 
infiltrated by leftists, by the so-called left. Ah, this left! It’s 
even corrupted the clergy. Even the priests! By now even 
they’re turning into elements whose purpose is only to destroy, 
destroy, destroy. And even in Latin American countries, even 
in Spain! It seems incredible. They abuse their own church. 

I heir own church! They talk about injustice, about equality. 

. . . Ah, this left! You’ll see, you’ll see where it’ll bring you. 

O.F.: Let’s get back to you, Majesty. So intransigent, so harsh, 
maybe even ruthless, behind that sad face. In the end so simi- 

2 7 8 


lar to your father. I wonder to what extent you’ve been influ¬ 
enced by your father. 

m.r.p.: None at all. Not even my father could influence me. I’ve 
told you, nobody can influence me! Yes, I was fond of my fa¬ 
ther. Yes, I admired him. But that’s all. I never tried to copy 
him, to imitate him. Nor would it have been possible, even if 
I’d wanted to. As personalities we were too different, and even 
the historical circumstances in which we found ourselves were 
too different. My father started from nothing. When he came 
to power, the country had nothing. Nor did he even have the 
problems we have today on the frontiers, especially with the 
Russians. And my father could afford to have good neighborly 
relations with everyone. The only basic threat was represented 
by the British, who in 1907 had divided Iran between them¬ 
selves and the Russians, and wanted Iran to constitute a kind 
of no man’s land between Russia and their empire in India. 
But later the British gave up this plan and things became fairly 
easy for my father. 

I, instead ... 1 didn’t start from nothing, I found a throne. 
But no sooner was I on the throne than I found myself having 
to lead a country occupied by foreigners. And I was only 
twenty-one. That’s not much, twenty-one, not much. Besides, 
1 didn’t only have to keep the foreigners in check and nothing 
else. I had to face a sixth column on the extreme right and ex¬ 
treme left—to exert greater influence on us, the foreigners had 
created the extreme right and extreme left. . . . No, it wasn’t 
easy for me. Maybe it was more difficult for me than for my 
father. Without counting the period of the cold war, which 
lasted up until a few years ago. 

O.F.: Majesty, you just mentioned the problems you have on the 
frontiers. Which is your worst neighbor today? 

M.R.P.: You can never tell, since you never know who your worst 
neighbor is. But I’d be inclined to say that at the moment it’s 

O.F.: I’m surprised, Majesty, that you should cite Iraq as your worst 
neighbor. I was expecting you to say the Soviet Union. 

m.r.p.: The Soviet Union. . . . With the Soviet Union we have 
good diplomatic and trade relations. With the Soviet Union 
we have a gas pipeline. I mean we sell gas to the Soviet 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


Union. Technicians come to us from the Soviet Union. And 
the cold war is over. But the question with the Soviet Union 
will always be the same, and in negotiating with the Russians, 
Iran must always keep in mind the chief dilemma: to become 
communist or not? No one can be so crazy or naive as to deny 
Russian imperialism. And though Russia has always had an 
imperialistic policy, the fact remains it's much more danger¬ 
ous today because it’s linked to communist dogma. I mean to 
say it’s easier to face countries that are only imperialist than 
countries that are both imperialist and communist. There’s 
what I call the USSR’s pincer movement. There’s their dream 
of reaching the Indian Ocean by passing through the Persian 
Gulf. And Iran is the last bastion for the defense of our civili¬ 
zation, of what we consider decent. If they were to try to attack 
this bastion, our survival would depend solely on our capacity 
and will to resist. So the problem of resisting comes up from 
now on. 

O.F.: And Iran today is pretty strong militarily, isn’t it? 

m.r.p.: Very strong, but not strong enough to be able to resist the 
Russians in case of attack. That’s obvious. For instance, I 
don’t have the atomic bomb. But I feel strong enough to resist 
should the Third World War break out. Yes, I said Third 
World War. Many think the Third World War can only break 
out over the Mediterranean, but I say it can break out much 
more easily over Iran. Oh, much more easily! It’s we, in fact, 
who control the world’s energy resources. To reach the rest of 
the world, oil doesn’t go through the Mediterranean, it goes 
through the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. So if the So¬ 
viet Union were to attack us, we’d resist. And we’d probably be 
overcome, and then the noncommunist countries could 
hardly sit there with their hands folded. And they’d intervene. 
And it would be the Third World War. Obviously. The non¬ 
communist world couldn’t accept the disappearance of Iran, 
because it knows that to lose Iran would mean to lose every¬ 
thing. Have I made myself clear? 

O.F.: Perfectly clear. And horribly. Because you talk of the Third 
World War like something that’s going to happen in the near 
future, Majesty. 

m.r.p. : I speak of it as something possible with the hope that it 



won't happen. As a possibility for the near future, I see instead 
a small war with one of our neighbors. After all, we have 
nothing but enemies on our frontiers. It's not only Iraq that's 
giving us trouble. 

O.F.: And your great friend, Majesty, I mean the United States, is 
geographically remote. 

M.R.P.: If you're asking me who I consider our best friend, the an¬ 
swer is the United States among others. Because the United 
States isn't our only friend—plenty of countries show us 
friendship and believe in us, in the importance of Iran. But 
the United States understands us better for the simple reason 
that it has so many interests here. Economic and therefore 
direct interests, political and therefore indirect interests. . . . 
I've just said that Iran is the key, or one of the keys, to the 
world. I need only add that the United States cannot shut itself 
up within the borders of its country, it cannot go back to the 
Monroe Doctrine. It's obliged to honor its responsibilities to¬ 
ward the world and thus to be concerned with us. And that 
does nothing to detract from our independence, because ev¬ 
eryone knows that our friendship with the United States 
doesn't make us slaves of the United States. The decisions are 
made here, in Teheran. Not elsewhere. Not in Washington, 
for example. I get along with Nixon as I've got along with 
other presidents of the United States, but I can continue to get 
along with him only if I'm sure that he's treating me as a 
friend. In fact, as a friend who within a few years will repre¬ 
sent a world power. 

O.F.: The United States is also good friends with Israel, and you've 
expressed yourself lately toward Jerusalem in very harsh terms. 
Less harshly toward the Arabs, on the other hand, with whom 
it seems you want to improve relations. 

m.r.p.: We base our policy on fundamental principles, and we can¬ 
not accept the idea that a country, in this case Israel, should 
annex territory through the use of arms. We can't because if 
this principle is applied to the Arabs, it may one day be ap¬ 
plied to us. You'll tell me it’s always been like this, that fron¬ 
tiers have always changed as a result of the use of arms and 
war. I agree, but that's no reason to recognize this fact as a 
valid principle. Besides everyone knows that Iran has accepted 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


the UN resolution of 1967, and if the Arabs lose faith in the 
UN, how are you to persuade them that they’ve been de¬ 
feated? What’s to keep them from taking their revenge? Even 
from using the oil weapon? Oil will go to their heads. Besides 
it’s already going to their heads. 

O.F.: Majesty, you side with the Arabs but sell oil to the Israelis. 

M.R.P.: Oil is sold by the oil companies, and so to anyone. Our oil 
goes everywhere—why shouldn’t it go to Israel? And why 
should I care if it goes to Israel? It goes where it goes. And as 
for our personal relations with Israel, as you know, we have no 
embassy in Jerusalem but we have Israeli technicians in Iran. 
We’re Muslims but not Arabs. And in foreign policy we take a 
very independent position. 

O.F.: Does such a position foresee the day when Iran and Israel will 
establish normal diplomatic relations? 

m.r.p.: No. Or rather, not until the question of the withdrawal of 
Israeli troops from the occupied territories has been resolved. 
And as for the possibilities of this question being resolved, I 
can only say that the Israelis have no choice—if they want to 
live in peace with the Arabs. It’s not only the Arabs who spend 
enormous sums of money on war materials, it’s also the 
Israelis. And I don’t see how either the Arabs or Israelis can 
keep it up for long. Besides, new phenomena are beginning to 
occur in Israel—strikes, for example. How long will Israel go 
on nursing the terrible and fantastic spirit that inspired it at the 
time of its formation? I’m thinking especially of the new gen¬ 
erations in Israel, and of the Israelis who come from Eastern 
Europe to find themselves treated differently from the others. 

O.F.: Majesty, you said something a while ago that struck me. You 
said Iran would soon represent a world power. Were you per¬ 
haps referring to the forecasts of those economists who say that 
within thirty-six years Iran should be the richest country in the 

m.r.p.: To say it will become the richest country in the world is 
perhaps going too far. But to say it will rank among the five 
greatest and most powerful countries in the world isn’t going 
too far at all. Thus Iran will find itself at the same level as the 
United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and France. I don’t 
mention China because China isn’t a rich country, nor can it 



become one if within twenty-five years it reaches the 
1,400,000,000 inhabitants that have been predicted. We, on 
the other hand, in twenty-five years will be 60,000,000 at 
most. Oh, yes, we can expect great wealth, and great strength, 
whatever the communists may say. It's no coincidence that 
I’m getting ready to launch a birth control program. And 
here’s the point I want to make: you can’t separate the econ¬ 
omy from other things, and once a country is rich economi¬ 
cally, it becomes rich in every sense. It becomes powerful on an 
international level. Besides, when speaking of the economy, 
I’m not only referring to oil—I’m referring to a balanced econ¬ 
omy that includes every kind of production, from the indus¬ 
trial to the agricultural, from handicrafts to electronics. We 
should have made the transition from carpets to computers— 
the result, instead, is that we’ve kept the carpets while adding 
the computers. We still make carpets by hand, but we also 
make them by machine. What’s more, we make wall-to-wall 
carpeting. Every year we double our national production. 
Anyway there are so many signs that we’ll become a world 
power. Ten years ago, for instance, when my White Revolu¬ 
tion began, there were only 1,000,000 students in the schools. 
Today there are 3,100,000, and in ten years there’ll be 
5,000,000 or 6,000,000. 

O.F.: You’ve just said that you weren’t only referring to oil, Maj¬ 
esty, but we all know that it’s thanks to oil that you have com¬ 
puters, and that it’s thanks to oil that you turn out machine- 
made rugs, and that tomorrow’s riches are also coming to you 
thanks to oil. Shall we finally talk about the policy you’ve 
adopted concerning oil and with regard to the West? 

M.R.P.: It’s simple. I have this oil and I can’t drink it. But I know I 
can exploit it to the utmost without blackmailing the rest of 
the world and even by trying to keep it from being used to 
blackmail the rest of the world. Therefore I’ve chosen a policy 
of guaranteeing its sale to everyone without distinction. It 
hasn’t been a difficult choice—I’ve never thought of aligning 
myself with the Arab countries that were threatening to black¬ 
mail the West. I’ve already said that my country is indepen¬ 
dent, and everyone knows that my country is Muslim but not 
Arab, therefore what I do is not to suit the Arabs but to help 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


Iran. Besides Iran needs money, and with oil you can make a 
lot of money. Oh, that’s the whole difference between me and 
the Arabs. Because the countries that say “we won’t sell any 
more oil to the West” don’t know what to do with their money 
and so they don’t worry about the future. Often they have a 
population of only six or seven hundred thousand inhabitants 
and so much money in the bank that they could live for three 
or four years w-ithout pumping or selling a drop of oil. Not I. I 
have these thirty-one and a half million inhabitants, and an 
economy to develop, a program of reforms to complete. 
Therefore I need money. I know what to do with money, and 
I can’t afford not to pump oil. I can’t afford not to sell it to 

O.F.: Meanwhile Qaddafi calls you a traitor. 

m.r.p.: Traitor?!? Me a traitor, when I’ve taken the w'hole business 
into my hands and already dispose of fifty-one percent of the 
production that formerly belonged exclusively to foreign oil 
companies? I wasn’t aware Mr. Qaddafi had addressed such an 
insult to me and . . . Look, I can’t take this Mr. Qaddafi at 
all seriously. I can only wish him success in serving his 
country as I succeed in serving mine, I can only remind him 
that he shouldn’t scream so much—the Libyan oil reserves 
will be exhausted in ten years’ time. My oil, on the other 
hand, will last at least thirty or forty years. And maybe fifty, 
sixty. It depends on whether or not we discover new deposits, 
and it’s very, very likely that new deposits will be discovered. 
But even if that shouldn’t happen, we’ll manage extremely 
well just the same. Our production is visibly increasing—in 
1976 we’ll be extracting as much as eight million barrels a 
day. Eight million barrels are a lot, quite a lot. 

O.F.: In any case, you’ve made quite a few enemies, Majesty. 

m.r.p.: That I still can’t say. In fact, the OPEC hasn’t yet decided 
not to sell oil to the West, and it may very well be that my 
decision not to blackmail the West will induce the Arabs to 
follow my example. If not all the Arabs, at least some of them. 
If not right aw^ay, in a short time. Some countries aren’t in¬ 
dependent like Iran, they haven’t the experts Iran has, and 
they don’t have the people behind them as I do. I can dictate 
my own terms. They still can’t. It’s not easy to reach a point 



where you can sell your oil directly and be free of the oil com¬ 
panies that have had a monopoly for decades and decades. 
And if even the Arab countries were to follow my decision 
. . . Oh, it would be so much simpler, and safer too, if the 
Western countries were exclusively buyers and we direct 
sellers! There’d be no resentment, blackmail, rancor, hostility. 

. . . Yes, it may very well be that I'm setting a good example, 
and in any case Y m going ahead with it. Our doors are wide 
open to anyone who wants to sign a contract with us, and 
many have already offered to do so. British, Americans, Japa¬ 
nese, Dutch, Germans. They were so shy in the beginning. 
But now they're becoming ever more daring. 

O.F.: And the Italians? 

M.R.P.: We're not selling much oil to the Italians at the moment, 
but we may reach an important agreement with ENI * and I 
think we're on the way to doing so. Yes, we may become ex¬ 
cellent partners with ENI, and anyway our relations with the 
Italians have always been good. Ever since the time of Mattei. 
Wasn't the agreement I signed with Mattei in 1957 my first 
success in breaking the old system of exploitation by foreign oil 
companies? Oh, I don't know what others say about Mattei, 
but I know I’ll never be able to be objective in talking about 
him. I liked him too much. He was a very decent fellow, and 
a man capable of reading the future, a really exceptional per¬ 

O.F.: As a matter of fact, they killed him. 

m.r.p.: Probably. But he shouldn't have been flying in that bad 
weather. The fog in Milan gets very thick in winter, and oil 
can really become a curse. But maybe it wasn't just the bad 
weather. And anyway it was a great shame. For us too. Well, 
I'm not saying that Mattei’s death brought about a setback in 
our relations with ENI. No, no, since we're about to conclude 
a large deal. Mattei couldn't have done any better, since what 
we're about to do now is really the maximum. Still if Mattei 
had lived, we'd have reached this agreement years ago. 

O.F.: I’d like to go back and clarify the point you mentioned before, 
Majesty. Do you or don't you think that the Arabs will end by 

* Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi—National Hydrocarbon Authority. (Translator’s 


Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


carrying out their threat to cut off all sales of oil to the West? 

m.r.p.: It’s hard to say. Very' hard, because one can just as easily 
say yes or no, with an equal chance of being wrong. But I d be 
inclined to say no. To cut off oil to the West, to give up that 
source of profit, would be a very difficult decision for them. 
Not all the Arabs are following Qaddafi’s poiicy, and while 
some may not need money, others certainly do. 

O.F.: And meanwhile the price of oil will go up? 

m.r.p.: It certainly will. Oh, most certainly! You can carry back the 
bad news and add that it comes from someone who knows 
what he’s talking about. I know everything there is to know 
about oil, everything. It’s really my specialty. And I tell you as 
a specialist that the price of oil will have to go up. There’s no 
other solution. But it’s a solution you Westerners have brought 
on yourselves. Or, if you like, a solution brought on by your 
overcivilized industrial society. You’ve increased the price of 
wheat by three hundred percent, and the same for sugar and 
cement. You’ve sent the price of petrochemicals skyrocketing. 
You buy crude oil from us and then sell it back to us, refined 
into petrochemicals, at a hundred times what you paid for it. 
You make us pay more for everything, scandalously more, and 
it’s only fair that from now on you should pay more for oil. 
Let’s say . . . ten times more. 

O.F.: Ten times more?! 

m.r.p.: But you’re the ones, I repeat, who force me to raise prices! 
And certainly you have your reasons. But I too, if I may say 
so, have mine. Besides we won’t go on quarreling forever—in 
less than a hundred years this business of oil will be finished. 
The need for oil is rising at an accelerated pace, the oil de¬ 
posits are being exhausted, and you’ll soon have to find new 
sources of energy. Atomic, solar, or something. There’ll have 
to be many solutions; one won’t be enough. For example, 
we’ll even have to resort to turbines driven by the ocean tides. 
Even I’m thinking of building atomic installations for desali¬ 
nating sea water. Or else we’ll have to drill more deeply, look 
for oil at ten thousand meters below sea level, look for it at the 
North Pole ... I don’t know. I know only that the moment 
has come to take strong measures and not waste oil as we’ve 
always done. It’s a crime to use it as we do today, crude. If 



we’d only think that soon there won’t by any more, if we’d 
only remember that it can be transformed into ten thousand 
derivatives, namely, petrochemical products. . . . For me it’s 
always a shock, for instance, to see crude oil used for electrical 
generators, without paying any heed to the value lost. Oh, 
when you talk about oil, the most important thing isn’t the 
price, it’s not Qaddafi’s boycott, it’s the fact that oil is not ever¬ 
lasting and that before we exhaust it we must invent new 
sources of energy. 

O.F.: This curse we call oil. 

M.R.P.: Sometimes I wonder if that’s not really what it is. So much 
has been written about the curse we call oil, and believe me, 
when you have it, on the one hand it’s a blessing but on the 
other it’s a great inconvenience. Because it represents such a 
danger. The world could blow up on account of this damned 
oil. And even if, like me, you’re fighting the threat ... I see 
you’re smiling. Why? 

O.F.: I’m smiling, Majesty, because you’re so different when you 
talk about oil. You light up, you vibrate, you concentrate your 
attention. You become another man, Majesty. And I . . . I’m 
going away without having understood you. On the one hand, 
you’re so ancient, on the other so modern and . . . Maybe it’s 
the two elements that merge in you, the Western and the 
Eastern that . . . 

m.r.p.: No, we Iranians aren’t all that different from you Euro¬ 
peans. If our women wear the veil, so do yours. The veil of 
the Catholic Church. If our men have more than one wife, so 
do yours. The wives you call mistresses. And if we believe in 
visions, you believe in dogmas. If you think yourselves supe¬ 
rior, we have no complexes. Don’t ever forget that whatever 
you have, we taught you three thousand years ago. 

O.F.: Three thousand years ago . . . I see now you’re smiling too, 
Majesty. You don’t look so sad any more. Ah, it’s too bad we 
can’t agree on the business of the blacklists. 

m.r.p.: But can you really be on the blacklist? 

O.F.: Majesty! As if you didn’t know, you the King of Kings and 
who knows everything! But I told you, it may well be. I’m on 
everybody’s blacklist. 

Mohammed Riza Pahlavi 


M.R.P.: What a pity. Or rather, it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re on 
the blacklist of my authorities, I’ll put you on the white list of 
my heart. 

O.F.: You frighten me, Majesty. Thank you, Majesty. 

Teheran , October 1973 


Helder Camara 

^ + 

His church was a poor church in the city of Recife, there in the 
north of Brazil where the only thing beautiful is the sea and, being 
close to the equator, it is always hot. That year it had never rained, 
and the drought had killed plants, children, hopes. It had killed 
nothing else because there was nothing else in Recife except dozens 
and dozens of baroque churches, coated by time with a black pa¬ 
tina of dirt that no one thinks to clean. His church instead was 
clean, white as his good conscience. There the only dirt was the 
inscription in blood-red paint, which he had whitewashed over, but 
the paint showed through and the inscription was legible. It said, 
“Morte ao bispo vermelho.” Death to the Red Bishop. It had been left 
there not long before by his persecutors, when they fired those ma¬ 
chine-gun bursts at him and threw hand bombs. And since then 
the little church plaza was almost always deserted; many people were 
afraid to go near it. If you asked a policeman, “Por favor onde esta 
a Igreja das Fronteiras?” he looked at you suspiciously and jotted 
down the license number of your taxi. It happened to me. The taxi 
driver was quaking with terror. 

His house was attached to the church and hardly seemed the 
dwelling of an archbishop. Clothed in soft fabrics, covered with 
jewels, waited on by obsequious footmen, archbishops usually live 
in palaces with entrances on elegant streets. His instead could be 
reached by a street perpendicular to the little plaza, Rua das Fron- 


Helder Camara 


teiras, and was enclosed by the low wall against which they had fired 
their machine guns. In this low wall you hardly noticed the little 
door with its green enamel paint, and the bell with no name. You 
rang the bell, some chickens fluttered, a cock crowed, and min¬ 
gling with this noise a soft voice was heard: “I’m coming, I'm com¬ 
ing!” Then the door opened, cautiously at first, then widely, but 
still hesitantly, and there stood a little man in a black cassock. On 
the cassock a wooden cro’ss suspended by a steel chain caught the 
eye. The little man was pale, bald, with a wrinkled face, a witty 
mouth, a little nose like a boiled chestnut, and the tired eyes of one 
who doesn't get much sleep. He had the innocuous, humble look 
of a parish priest. 

He was not, he is not, a parish priest, and not even a little man. 
He is the most important man you can meet in Brazil, or rather in 
all of Latin America. And perhaps the most intelligent, the most 
courageous. He is Dom Helder Camara, the archbishop who defies 
the government and denounces the injustices, abuses, and infamies 
about which others keep silent, who has the guts to preach social¬ 
ism and say no to violence. More than once he was up for the 
Nobel Peace Prize. Many call him a saint. If the word saint means 
anything, I too say he's a saint. 

The Brazilian government does not think so. The Brazilian gov¬ 
ernment is perhaps the most fascist, most sinister government that 
exists in Latin America. For those who oppose it by demanding 
freedom, its police inflict tortures that surpass any imagining. They 
use the pau de arara y or parrot’s perch, which consists of a pole 
similar to the one on which parrots swing. Of iron or wood, it is in¬ 
serted between the knees and the arm sockets of the naked victim, 
then hoisted up and held halfway between the floor and the ceiling. 
Here the victim remains hanging during the interrogation, and 
since his feet and ankles are bound tightly by cords, the blood 
circulation is stopped and the body swells as though about to ex¬ 
plode, as though its weight had increased tenfold. 

And then, for those opponents who demand freedom, there is 
the “hydraulic method,” which consists of a flexible tube; the tube 
is introduced into the victim’s nose and water poured into it while 
the mouth is held shut. Thus the victim feels he is drowning, and 
in fact it is a partial drowning—to be interrupted a little before the 
moment of death. And then, for those opponents who demand 



freedom, there are electric shocks to be applied to the ears, genitals, 
anus, and tongue. The charge is generally of 110 volts but may go 
up to 230, and it produces epileptic seizures, violent convulsions, 
third-degree burns, sometimes death, as has happened in a great 
many cases, including the one of a journalist who received a charge 
of 230 volts in the anus. He died at once. 

Such tortures are inflicted on all those who fall into the hands of 
the DOPS, the Division of Public and Social Order, the Brazilian 
military criminal police. They are inflicted on liberals and commu¬ 
nists, nuns and priests, guerrillas and students, even foreign citi¬ 
zens. The prisons in Brazil are full, and have been for many years. 
You know when you go in but you never know when you’ll come 
out. If you come out alive, in eighty cases out of a hundred you 
come out mutilated—with a broken spine, paralyzed legs, crushed 
testicles, eyes and ears that no longer function. The literature on 
this infamy is endless. You can find it in the mimeographed sheets 
issued by resistance organizations, in American and European 
newspapers, in embassy dispatches. Even if the world often forgets, 
because Brazil is far away, because Brazil is a vacationland filled 
with sea, music, sambas, coffee, because it is not‘‘convenient” to dis¬ 
turb the trade relations between democratic countries and dicta¬ 
torships, even though the tragedy is public knowledge. 

But beware of talking about it in Brazil, beware of making allu¬ 
sions to it or denouncing it. And most people keep silent. Helder 
Camara is the only one who dares to raise his voice, together with a 
small group of prelates who have not forgotten the Gospels. But he 
pays for it—God, how he pays! When in Paris he described the tor¬ 
tures inflicted on political prisoners in the jails of Sao Paulo, Rio 
de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, they called him 
“traitor,” “defamer,” “demagogue.” When he fired off his accusa¬ 
tions from the little house in Rua das Frontieras, they fired back 
their machine guns and wrote Morte ao bispo vermelho on the wall. 
And so these infamous Brazilian authorities consider him a public 
menace, and keep careful watch on his every gesture, his every en¬ 

The people instead worship him. They turn to him as to a father 
who never rejects them and is ready to receive them at any hour of 
the day or night. If he’s not at home, it means he has gone to see 
an oppressed person in some prison, some hovel, some village 

Helder Camara 


where people die of hunger and thirst before reaching the age of 
forty and where death is a merciful liberation. If then he is not in 
Recife, it means he is traveling about the world, to shout out his 
message and his indignation, now in Berlin, now in Kyoto, now in 
Detroit, now in the Vatican—his emaciated arms raised to 
heaven and his fingers tensed claws reaching for God. Though 
nonviolent, he is a man who has chosen combat, cost what it may. 
And the fortresses he attacks are the fortresses of shame, privilege, 
dictatorship. He spares no one: neither Catholics nor Marxists, nei¬ 
ther capitalist empires nor communist ones, but least of all does he 
spare the fascists, whom he thrashes with the anger of a Christ de¬ 
termined to drive the Pharisees from the temple. 

Dom Helder Camara was bom in Fortaleza, in the northeast of 
Brazil, in 1909. His father was a tradesman who dabbled in jour¬ 
nalism and theatrical criticism, his mother a teacher in an elemen¬ 
tary school. A petit bourgeois origin. And he never knew wealth— 
five other children in the family died a few months apart, of dysen¬ 
tery and lack of treatment. He went to the seminary very early, as a 
boy. His vocation burst out at the age of eight, he says—mys¬ 
teriously and insistently. From then on he never conceived any 
other commitment for himself except that of a priest. He became a 
priest toward the age of twenty-two, when he became a fascist. Yes, 
for some time he was a fascist. “In every one of us sleeps a fascist 
and sometimes he never wakes up; sometimes instead he does/’ He 
tells it without shame, scourging himself by this admission, and the 
only justification he offers is when he explains that it was his bishop 
who asked him to become a fascist. One of those bishops clothed in 
soft fabrics, covered with jewels, waited on by obsequious footmen, 
and who live in palaces with entrances on elegant streets. One of 
those whose motto is God-Fatherland-Family. 

Ah, yes, he knows the fascists well, Dom Helder does. He knew 
them long before he landed in this little church in Recife, in this 
little house where the hens flutter inside, and where he gets only 
four hours of rest out of twenty-four because at night they awaken 
him by continually telephoning insults to frighten him: “We’re 
coming to get you now and kill you, you dirty communist.” “Com¬ 
mend your soul to God because you won’t live to see the morning, 
you ugly son of a bitch.’’ But he says it doesn’t matter; four hours of 
sleep a night are enough for him. 

2 9 2 


I interviewed him there, in the course of three days. We spoke in 
French, a language he knows well, and very often he seemed to me 
more like a political leader than a priest. He had the impassioned 
voice of a leader, the shining eyes, the sureness of one who knows 
he's believed. Every half hour he got up and went to make me a 
coffee. Then he came back with the coffee and cookies, taking the 
occasion to peer out into the street, to check that no one was there 
to daub the wall again or throw a bomb. I followed him with my 
gaze and thought of Camilo Torres, the young priest who had put 
away his cassock to shoulder a gun and had died in his first combat, 
a bullet in the middle of his forehead. I thought of Father Tito de 
Alencar, the young Dominican whom the DOPS had tortured in 
Sao Paulo with all the inhumanity of the Inquisition. Open your 
mouth and we'll give you the consecrated host before killing you. 
Then instead of the host, they gave him a charge of 222 volts on 
the tongue. I thought of all the priests and nuns who fill the prisons 
of Latin America and die in their sufferings, while the bishops 
clothed in soft fabrics, covered with jewels, and waited on by ob¬ 
sequious footmen collaborate with the generals in power and pro¬ 
tect the executioners. In Brazil, in Chile, in Uruguay, Paraguay, 
Venezuela, Guatemala. And I came to the conclusion: “They 
won't give you the Nobel Peace Prize, Dom Helder. They’ll never 
give it to you. You’re too disturbing. 

And indeed they didn't give it to him. In 1971 they gave it to 
Willy Brandt, and in 1973 when his name came up again, they 
gave it to Henry Kissinger and Le Due Tho. And Le Due Tho, 
thank heaven, refused it. Not Kissinger. As we all know. 

ORIANA fallaci: There’s a rumor, Dom Helder, that Paul VI calls 
you “my red archbishop.” And as a matter of fact, you can 
hardly be a convenient man for the Vatican. You must scare a 
lot of people inside it. Shall we talk about this a little? 
helder Camara: Look, the pope knows very well what I say and do. 
When I denounce the tortures in Brazil, the pope knows it. 
When I fight for political prisoners and the poor, the pope 
knows it. When I travel abroad to plead for justice, the pope 
knows it. He's known my opinions for some time because 

Helder Camara 


we've known each other for some time. Since 1950, to be 
exact, when he was prosecretary of state for ordinary affairs. I 
don’t hide anything from him; I never have. And if the pope 
felt it was wrong for me to do what I’m doing, if he were to tell 
me to stop, I’d stop. Because I’m a servant of the Church and 
I know the value of sacrifice. 

But the pope doesn’t tell me that, and if he calls me his “red 
archbishop,” he does it jokingly, affectionately, certainly not 
the way they do here in Brazil where anyone who’s not a reac¬ 
tionary is said to be a communist or in the service of the com¬ 
munists. The accusation doesn’t touch me. If I were an agita¬ 
tor, a communist, I wouldn’t be able to go to the United 
States and receive honoris causa degrees from American uni¬ 
versities. Having said that, however, I should make it clear 
that by my ideas and speeches I don’t pledge the authority of 
the pope—what I say and do is my exclusive personal responsi¬ 
bility. Which doesn’t make me a hero—I’m not the only one 
to speak out. The tortures in Brazil, for instance, have been 
denounced first and foremost by the papal commission, which 
does pledge the authority of the pope. The pope himself has 
condemned them, and his condemnation counts for much 
more than that of a poor priest who doesn’t scare anyone in 
the Vatican. 

O.F.: A poor priest who’s a prince of the Church, who’s one of the 
most admired and respected men in the world. A poor priest to 
whom they’re thinking of giving the Nobel Peace Prize. A 
poor priest who when he speaks of the tortures succeeds in fill¬ 
ing the whole Palais de Sport in Paris and awakening the con¬ 
science of millions of people in every country. Shall we talk 
about this, Dom Helder? 

H.C.: Well, it was like this. I was in Paris and they asked me to tell 
what was going on. I said sure, it’s also a priest’s duty to in¬ 
form people, especially with regard to a country like Brazil 
where the press is controlled or subservient to the government. 

I began by reminding the French that I’d be talking about a 
crime quite familiar to themselves, who had been guilty of it 
during the Algerian war: torture. I added that such infamies 
also happened through the weakness of us Christians, who arc 
too accustomed to bowing before power and its institutions or 



else to keeping silent. 1 explained that I wouldn’t be telling 
anything new because it was no longer a secret that inhuman 
sufferings, like those of the Middle Ages, are inflicted on polit¬ 
ical prisoners in Brazil—irrefutable documentation had al¬ 
ready been published everywhere. 

Then I described the methods of torture—from electric 
shocks to the pau de arara. And I related incidents that I 
myself had checked. For example, the case of a student to 
whom they did such horrible things that he threw himself 
from the window of a police station. Luis De Ledeiros is his 
name. And the story goes essentially like this. As soon as I 
learned that Luis De Ledeiros was in the hospital, I rushed 
there together with one of my advisers. And I was able to see 
him. Quite aside from the attempt at suicide, he was in fright¬ 
ful condition. Among other things, they had torn out four of 
his fingernails and crushed his testicles. Those are two regular 
tortures, tearing out fingernails and crushing testicles. The 
doctor who was taking care of him confirmed this to me and 
said, “Go to the governor, he’s a doctor, tell him to come here 
and examine the bodies of the tortured.” It was just what I was 
looking for: to have in my hands, finally, a direct witness. I 
went immediately to the governor’s palace, with my auxiliary 
bishop, and made the denunciation. Then 1 forwarded the de¬ 
nunciation to all the parishes, all the bishops, and to the con¬ 
ference of bishops. 

O.F.: Some bishops don’t believe it, Dom Helder, and they side 
with those who deny the tortures. How do you judge these 

H.C.: How do you want me to judge them! By hoping that God will 
enlighten them, make them worthy of their responsibilities. 
I’ve always been for the pluralism of the Church, but when I 
see the ones who represent the putrid part of the Church, I get 
the urge to say what Pope John said to certain individuals: 
“Dear Father, don’t you know you’re really rotten? The spirit 
of God has never got to you, has it?” Good Lord, it was legiti¬ 
mate at first, or almost, to have doubts about the tortures. 
There was no proof. But to doubt it today is grotesque. Ex¬ 
amples have been published in the report of the World Associ¬ 
ation of Jurists—with names, surnames, dates. And then how 

Helder Camara 


many priests are in prison? They’re not the majority since it’s 
more convenient to arrest a layman than a priest, to torture a 
layman than a priest, but there are still many and they’re valu¬ 
able witnesses if you can succeed in getting to them. 1 say “if” 
because today in Brazil when you go to prison, it becomes im¬ 
possible to let anyone know and to get in touch with a relative 
or lawyer. But even that’s not the worst thing—it’s the silence 
of the press and citizens. Neither one nor the other dares speak 
out, and so it looks as though the people are in accord with 
the regime, that the victims are telling falsehoods or exaggerat¬ 
ing. I can only hope that the scandal that’s broken out in the 
world press and the intervention of the world Church will help 
to improve things. 

o.f. : What happened to you, Dom Helder, after the statements you 
made in Paris? 

H.C.: To denounce the tortures in Brazil is considered by the gov¬ 
ernment a crime against the fatherland. And on this point too 
there’s a certain divergence of views between me and the gov¬ 
ernment. In fact, I consider it a crime against the fatherland 
not to denounce them. So I left Paris thinking, We’ll see what 
happens to you, Dom Helder, when you get back to Brazil. 
Nothing happened. I went quietly through the police, the cus¬ 
toms, and went home. True, there were attacks in the press. 
Curious, funny attacks. But I don’t care about those, since I 
rarely read the newspapers, so as to avoid getting bitter. Be¬ 
sides it’s useless to try to intimidate me; in my heart there are 
no doubts, and what’s in my heart goes directly to my lips. I 
say to my flock, in my pastoral visits, in my sermons, the same 
things I’m saying to you. Nor can they drown me out, since in 
the exercise of my office I recognize no other authority but the 
pope. Of course, I’m forbidden to speak on the radio, on tele¬ 
vision, and since I’m not naive I’m aware that sooner or later 
they might deprive me of my civil rights. For whatever those 
are worth, since in Brazil no one can exercise the vote, there 
are no elections. But on the whole I enjoy a certain freedom; 
they only bother me with threats. 

O.F. : What kind of threats? 

h.c.: Death threats, no? Machinc-gun fire, bombs, telephone calls, 
and slander addressed to the Vatican. You must know that 



here in Brazil there's an extreme rightist movement called 
“Family and Security." They started using that to harass me 
some time ago. They approached people on their way to 
church and asked them, “Are you for or against commu¬ 
nism?" The people said against, naturally, and so they col¬ 
lected signatures and then sent them to the pope, asking him 
to “throw out that communist Dom Helder." The pope never 
gave it any importance, and neither did I. 

But then later there arose a clandestine movement, a kind 
of Brazilian Ku Klux Klan, a so-called Communist-hunting 
Command, or CCC. This CCC takes a particular interest in 
houses where suspected communists live, and it fires machine 
guns at us, or throws hand bombs, and writes insults on the 
walls. And they've paid their respects to me several times this 
way: twice here at home where they ruined the wall with 
machine-gun fire and made a mess on the wall of the church, 
once at the archbishop's palace, once at the Catholic Institute, 
once in another church where I'm accustomed to going. 
Always leaving the signature CCC. But they've never injured 
me. On the other hand, they shot a student I know in the 
spine and now he's paralyzed forever. A twenty-seven-year-old 
collaborator of mine, Henrique Pereira Neto, a sociology 
teacher at the University of Recife, who preached the Gospels 
in the favelas , the slums; we found him hanged to a tree and 
his body riddled with bullets. Things that in Recife are no 
longer surprising. 

O.F.: No longer surprising?! 

H.c.: No, like the telephone threats. I've got used to them by now. 
They call me at night, at hour or half-hour intervals, and say, 
“You’re an agitator, a communist, get ready to die, we're on 
our way, and we're going to show you what hell looks like.” 
What idiots. I don't even answer them. I smile and. hang up 
the receiver. But why do you pick it up in the first place? 
you'll ask. Because it's my duty to answer the telephone. It 
could be someone who's sick, who needs me, who's asking for 
help. Am I a priest or not? During the world championship 
soccer matches they calmed down a little. For those days they 
only thought about the game. But then they started up again, 
and last night too they didn't let me pray or get any sleep. 

Helder Camara 


Ever)' half hour, ring-ring! “Hello, we're coming to kill you.” 
Idiots! They still haven’t understood that it’s no use killing me; 
there are plenty of priests like me. 

O.F.: Unfortunately not, Dom Helder. Rather there are very few. 
But let’s go back to that nickname of “red archbishop.” What 
are your political views today? Are you a socialist, as people 
say, or not? 

h.c. : Of course I am! God created man in his own image and like¬ 
ness, because he was his cocreator and not because he was a 
slave. How can we allow the majority of men to be exploited 
and made to live like slaves? I don’t see any solution in capital¬ 
ism. But neither do I see it in the socialist examples that are 
offered us today, because they’re based on dictatorships, and 
you don’t arrive at socialism with dictatorship. Dictatorship we 
have already—that’s my idee fixe. Yes, the Marxist experiment 
is amazing—I admit that the Soviet Union has had great suc¬ 
cess in changing its own structures, I admit that Red China 
has shot ahead in a still more extraordinary way. But when I 
read what’s happening in the Soviet Union, in Red China, the 
purges, the informers, the arrests, the fear, I find such a strong 
parallel with rightist dictatorships and fascism! When 1 observe 
the coldness wdth w'hich the Soviet Union behaves toward un¬ 
derdeveloped countries, Latin America for instance, I find it 
so identical w ith the coldness of the United States! I might try 
to see some example of my socialism, perhaps, in certain 
countries outside the Russian or Chinese orbit—Tanzania, 
perhaps, Czechoslovakia before they crushed it. But not even 
there. My socialism is a special socialism, a socialism that re¬ 
spects the human person and goes back to the Gospels. My so¬ 
cialism is justice. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, there’s no word so exploited as the w'ord justice. 
There’s no more utopian word than justice. What do you 
mean by justice? 

H.c.: Justice doesn’t mean assigning everyone an identical quantity 
of goods in an identical way. That would be dreadful. It would 
be as though everyone had the same face and the same body 
and the same voice and the same brain. I believe in the right 
to have different faces and different bodies and different voices 
and different brains—God can afford the risk of being judged 



unjust. But God is not unjust and wants that there be no 
privileged and oppressed, he wants for each to receive what’s 
essentia] for living—while remaining different. So what do I 
mean by justice? I mean a better distribution of goods, both on 
a national and international scale. There’s an internal colonial¬ 
ism and an external colonialism. To demonstrate the latter all 
you have to do is remember that eighty percent of this planet’s 
resources are in the hands of twenty percent of its countries, 
namely in the hands of the superpowers or the nations that 
serve the superpowers. Just to give two small examples: in the 
last fifteen years the United States has earned a good eleven 
billion dollars on Latin America—that figure is supplied by 
the statistical bureau of Detroit University. Or just say that for 
a Canadian tractor Jamaica has to pay the equivalent of thirty- 
two hundred tons of sugar. ... To demonstrate internal co¬ 
lonialism, on the other hand, all you have to do is think of 
Brazil. In northern Brazil there are areas that it would be gen¬ 
erous to call underdeveloped. Other areas remind you of pre¬ 
history: people there live as in the time of the caves and are 
happy to eat what they find in the garbage. And what can I tell 
these people? That they have to suffer to go to Paradise? Eter¬ 
nity begins here on earth, not in Paradise. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, have you read Marx? 

H.C.: Sure. And I don't agree with his conclusions but I do agree 
with his analysis of capitalist society. Which doesn’t give any¬ 
one the right to pin the label of honorary Marxist on me. The 
fact is that Marx should be interpreted in the light of a reality 
that has changed, that is changing. I always tell young peo¬ 
ple it’s a mistake to take Marx literally; Marx should be uti¬ 
lized while keeping in mind that his analysis is of a century 
ago. Today, for instance, Marx wouldn’t say that religion is an 
alienated and alienating force. Religion deserved that judg¬ 
ment but such a judgment is no longer valid; look what’s hap¬ 
pening with the priests of Latin America. Everywhere. Besides 
many communists know it. People like the Frenchman 
Garaudy know it, and it doesn’t matter if people like Garaudy 
are expelled from the Communist party—they exist and they 
think, they incarnate what Marx would say in our time. What 
can I say? The men on the left are often the most intelligent 

Helder Camara 


and most generous, but they live in a misunderstanding com¬ 
pounded of naivete or blindness. They can't get it into their 
heads that today there are five giants in the world: the two cap¬ 
italist giants, the two communist giants, and a fifth giant that's 
a giant with clay feet, namely the underdeveloped world. 

The first capitalist giant, there's no need to stress it, is called 
the United States. The second is called the European Com¬ 
mon Market, and it too behaves by all the rules of imperial¬ 
ism. The first communist giant is called the Soviet Union, the 
second is called Red China, and only imbeciles delude them¬ 
selves that the two capitalist empires are separated from the 
two communist ones by their ideologies. They divided up the 
world at Yalta and they go on dividing it up while dreaming of 
a second Yalta Conference. So for the fifth giant with the clay 
feet, for us, where is there hope? I don't see it either in the 
American and European capitalists or in the Russian and 
Chinese communists. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, I must ask you an embarrassing question. There 
was a period in your life during which you embraced fascism. 
How was it possible? And how did you arrive later at such dif¬ 
ferent choices? Excuse the ugly reminder. 

H.C.: You have every right to remind me of that ugly memory and 
I'm not ashamed to answer. In every one of us sleeps a fascist 
and sometimes he never wakes up; sometimes instead he does. 
In me he woke up when I was young. I was twenty-two, I was 
dreaming even then of changing the world, and I saw the 
world divided between right and left, that is fascism and com¬ 
munism. As an opponent of communism, I chose fascism. In 
Brazil it was called Integralist Action. The integralists wore 
green shirts instead of black ones like the Italians under Mus¬ 
solini. And their motto was God-Fatherland-Family—a motto 
that sounded fine to me. How do I judge this now? By my 
youthful simplicity, my good faith, my lack of information— 
there weren't many books to read, nor many sane men to lis¬ 
ten to. And also by the fact that my superior, the bishop of 
Ceara, was favorable and had asked me to work with the in¬ 
tegralists. You know I worked with them till I was twenty- 
seven? I began to suspect that that wasn't the right path only 
when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, where Cardinal Leme, who 



didn’t think like the bishop in Ceara, ordered me to abandon 
the movement. 

I’m not embarrassed to tell you this, because any experi¬ 
ence, any mistake, enriches you and teaches you—if nothing 
else, to understand others. To the fascists of today, I know 
what I’m talking about when I say there’s not only fascism, 
there’s not only communism; reality is much more compli¬ 
cated. But you want to know how I arrived at my choices today. 
The answer is simple: when a man works in contact with suf¬ 
fering, he always ends up being pregnant with suffering. Many 
reactionaries are what they are because they don’t know 
poverty and humiliation. When did I get pregnant? Who 
knows? I can only say that my pregnancy already existed in 
1952 when I was named bishop. In 1955, the year of the In¬ 
ternational Eucharistic Congress, it was already an advanced 
pregnancy. I gave birth to my new ideas one day in 1960, in 
the Church of the Candelaria, for the Feast of Saint Vincent 
de Paul. I got up in the pulpit and began speaking of charity 
understood as justice and not as beneficence. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, some mean to arrive at that justice by violence. 
What do you think of violence as an instrument of struggle? 

H.C.: I respect it. But here there’s something that must be stated. 
When we speak of violence we mustn’t forget that the number 
one violence, the violence that’s the mother of all violence, is 
bom of grievances. It’s called injustice. So the young people 
who try to interpret oppression react to the number one vio¬ 
lence with a number two violence, namely the current vio¬ 
lence, and this provokes the number three violence, namely 
fascist violence. It’s a spiral. I, as a priest, cannot and must not 
accept any of these three violences, but the number two vio¬ 
lence I can understand—precisely because I know that one ar¬ 
rives at it through provocation. I detest those who remain pas¬ 
sive, who keep silent, and I love only those who fight, who 
dare. The young people in Brazil who react to violence with 
violence are idealists whom I admire. Unfortunately their vio¬ 
lence leads to nothing, and so I must add, if you start playing 
with weapons, the oppressors will crush you. To think of fac¬ 
ing them on their level is pure madness. 

Helder Camara 


O.F.: In other words, Dom Helder, you’re telling me that armed 
revolt is impossible in Latin America. 

H.C.: Legitimate and impossible. Legitimate because provoked, im¬ 
possible because it’ll be crushed. The idea that guerrilla war¬ 
fare was the only solution for Latin America developed after 
Fidel Castro’s victory. But Fidel Castro, in the beginning, 
didn’t have the United States against him! The United States 
was taken by surprise with Cuba, and after Cuba, it organized 
antiguerrilla warfare in all the countries of Latin America, to 
prevent other Cubas. So today, in Latin America, all the mili¬ 
tary men in power are helped by the Pentagon in crushing 
anyone who attempts a revolution. Not only are there special 
schools for war where soldiers are trained under the harshest 
conditions, in the jungle, among the snakes, but where they’re 
also taught political propaganda. That is, while their bodies 
learn to kill, their minds are persuaded that the world is di¬ 
vided in two: on one side capitalism with its values, on the 
other communism with its antivalues. These special forces, in 
short, are so prepared that anyone who tries to face them 
inevitably ends by losing. 

O.F.: Like Che Guevara? Dom Helder, what’s your opinion of Che 

H.C.: Guevara was, in Cuba, the genius of guerrilla warfare. He 
showed it in Cuba, since it was he and not Fidel Castro who 
carried off that extraordinary victory. I say extraordinary be¬ 
cause I haven’t forgotten, you know, what Cuba was like in 
the times of Batista! Others have, 1 haven’t. But from a politi¬ 
cal standpoint, Guevara was much less of a genius, and his 
death shows that my argument is right. Then he chose Boliv¬ 
ia, namely a country with a very small privileged class and 
where the masses live below the human level—with neither 
the hope nor the awareness necessary for revolt. And it was a 
mistake because he couldn’t be helped by those for whom he 
was fighting—those who have no reason to live don’t even 
have a reason to die. He remained alone, and the experts in 
antiguerrilla warfare devoured him. No, Cuba can’t be re¬ 
peated, and I don’t believe that Latin America has “need of 
many Vietnams,’’ as Che Guevara said. When I think of Viet- 



nam, I think of a heroic people who are fighting against a 
superpower, since I by no means believe that the United States 
is there to defend the free world. But I don’t even think that 
Red China gives a damn about Vietnam and I ask, “Do you 
really delude yourselves that when that war is over, the Viet* 
namese people will come out the winner?” 

O.F.: And Camilo Torres? 

H.c. : The same. Camilo was a sincere priest, but at a certain point, 
while remaining a priest and a Christian, he lost any illusion 
that the Church knew or wanted to realize its beautiful texts. 
And he thought the Communist party was the only one capa¬ 
ble of doing something. So the communists took him and sent 
him immediately into combat, where the danger was gravest. 
They had a plan in mind: Camilo would be killed and Colom¬ 
bia would catch fire. Camilo was killed but Colombia didn’t 
catch fire. Neither the young people nor the workers stirred. 
And we go back to my statement of before. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, would you also apply that statement to the 
young people who are carrying out guerrilla warfare in the cit¬ 
ies of Brazil? 

H.c. : Of course. Oh, I respect enormously the young Brazilians of 
whom you speak! 1 love them because they’re daring, mature, 
because they never act out of hatred and think only of freeing 
their country. At the cost of their lives. They don’t have time 
to prepare the masses, they’re impatient, and they pay with 
their lives. 1 wouldn’t like to discourage those young people 
but 1 have to. Is it worth while to sacrifice their lives for 
nothing? Or almost nothing? 

Consider first of all the bank robberies they commit to get 
the money necessary to buy weapons. Weapons cost a disgust¬ 
ing price, to bring them into the cities is a mad undertaking— 
that risk, that sacrifice, isn’t it therefore disproportionate? Now 
consider the kidnapping of diplomats, done for the purpose of 
freeing their comrades in prison. Every time an ambassador is 
released by the guerrillas in exchange for their comrades in 
prison, the police send out a dragnet and the empty cells fill 
up again. As well as the torture chambers. On one side they 
come out, and on the other they go in—what’s the sense of it? 
The sense of making an exchange, of adding cripples to crip- 

Helder Camara 


pies, deaths to deaths? The sense of increasing the spiral of 
violence, of facilitating the fascist dictatorship? 

My opposition, as you see, isn't based on religious motives 
but on tactical ones. It doesn’t come from any idealism, it 
comes from an exquisitely political realism. A realism that 
applies to any other country: United States, Italy, France, 
Spain, Russia. If in any of these countries the young people 
were to pour out into the streets and attempt a revolution, 
they’d be annihilated in a flash. In the United States, for in¬ 
stance, the Pentagon would end up completely in power. We 
mustn’t be impatient! 

O.F.: Even Jesus Christ was impatient, Dom Helder. And he didn’t 
offer a lot of tactical arguments when he defied the constituted 
authorities. In the history of the world those who have won 
have always been those who challenged the unchallengeable. 
And the young . . . 

H.C.: If only you knew how I understand the young! I too was im¬ 
patient as a young man—at the seminary I was such a dis¬ 
senter that I wasn’t allowed to become a Child of Mary. 101 I 
talked during the hours devoted to silence, I wrote poetry even 
though it was forbidden, I argued with my superiors. And the 
new generations of today fill me with admiration because 
they’re a hundred times more disobedient than I was, a 
hundred times more courageous. In the United States, in 
Europe, everywhere. I know nothing about the young Rus¬ 
sians, but I’m sure they too are trying something. Yes, I know 
that for the young people of today it’s all much easier because 
they have more information, more communications, they 
have the road that my generation paved for them. But they use 
it so well, that road! There is in them such a thirst for justice, 
for revolt, such a sense of responsibility. They’re exacting to¬ 
ward their parents, their teachers, their pastors, themselves. 
They turn their backs on religion because they’ve realized that 
religion has betrayed them. And they’re sincere when they 
find sincerity, sensitivity. Some time ago some young Marxists 
came to see me, and with a certain arrogance they said they’d 
decided to accept me. Listen, listen, I said, so let’s suppose I 

* The Children of Mary was a pious organization, something like a devotional club. 

(Editor’s note.) 



don't accept you. That led to a heated, in fact harsh, discus¬ 
sion, but it ended in an embrace. I don't only love the young 
people of today, 1 envy them, since they have the good fortune 
to live their youth together with the youth of the world. But 
you can’t stop me from being old and therefore from being 
wise, not impatient. 

O.F.: Of course not. So let me ask you, Dom Helder, what solu¬ 
tions has your wisdom found for eliminating injustice? 

H.C.: Anyone who has the solution in his pocket is a presumptuous 
fool. I have no solutions. I have only opinions, suggestions, 
which can be summed up in two words: peaceful violence. 
That is, not the violence chosen by young people with 
weapons in their hands, but the violence, if you like, already 
preached by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The violence of 
Christ. I call it violence because it’s not content with small 
reforms, revisions, but insists on a complete revolution of 
present structures—a society remade from top to bottom. On a 
socialist basis and without shedding blood. It's not enough to 
struggle for the poor, to die for the poor—we must give the 
poor an awareness of their rights, and of their poverty. The 
masses must realize the urgency of freeing themselves and not 
be freed by a few idealists who face torture like the Christians 
faced the lions in the Colosseum. To get yourself eaten by 
lions doesn't do much good if the masses stay seated to watch 
the spectacle. But how do we get them to stand up on their 
feet? you'll answer—this is a game of mirrors! 

Well, I may be a utopian and naive, but I say it's possible to 
“consciencize" the masses, and, perhaps, it's possible to open 
a dialogue with the oppressors. There's no man who’s com¬ 
pletely wicked; even in the most infamous of human beings 
you find valid elements—and what if we succeed in some way 
in talking with the more intelligent military men? What if we 
were actually to succeed in inducing them to revise their polit¬ 
ical philosophy? Having been an integralist, a fascist, I know 
the mechanism of their minds—it may even be that we'll 
succeed in convincing them that that mechanism is wrong, 
that torturing and killing don't kill ideas, that order isn't main¬ 
tained by terror, that progress is reached only by dignity, that 
the underdeveloped countries don't defend themselves by put- 

Helder Camara 


ting themselves at the service of the capitalist empires, that the 
capitalist empires go arm in arm with the communist empires. 
We must try. 

O.F.: Have you tried, Dom Helder? 

H.C.: I will try. I'm trying now by talking to you in this interview. 
They'll have to understand too that the world is going forward, 
that the breath of revolt is not only blowing on Brazil and 
Latin America, but also on the whole planet. Good Lord, it's 
even blown on the Catholic Church! On the problem of jus¬ 
tice the Church has already arrived at certain conclusions. 
And those conclusions are on paper, and signed. For it’s true 
that many priests are talking about celibacy, but still more are 
talking about hunger and freedom. And then, you know, one 
must consider the consequences of the discussion about celi¬ 
bacy: there's a relationship between the various revolts; you 
can't demand a change in the outer structures if you don’t 
have the courage to change the inner ones. The great human 
problems aren't the monopoly of priests living in Latin 
America, of Dom Helder. They’re faced by priests in Europe, 
in the United States, in Canada, everywhere. 

o.f. : They’re isolated groups, Dom Helder. At the top of the pyra¬ 
mid we still have those who defend the old structures and the 
established authorities. 

H.C.: I can't say you’re wrong. There's an enormous difference be¬ 
tween the conclusions signed on paper and the living realities. 
The Church has always been too preoccupied by the problem 
of maintaining order, avoiding chaos, and this has kept it from 
realizing that its order was more often disorder. I often won¬ 
der, without excusing the Church, how it’s possible for serious 
and virtuous people to have accepted and go on accepting so 
many injustices. For three centuries in Brazil the Church 
found it normal for the Negroes to be kept in slavery! The 
truth is that the Catholic Church belongs to the mechanism of 
power. The Church has money, so it invests its money, sinks 
up to its neck in commercial enterprises, and attaches itself to 
those who hold wealth. It thinks in that way to protect its pres¬ 
tige, but if we want to sustain the role we’ve arrogated to our¬ 
selves, we have to stop thinking in terms of prestige. Nor 
should wc wash our hands like Pontius Pilate; we must cleanse 



ourselves of the sin of omission and settle our debts. And 
reacquire the respect of the young people, if not their sympathy 
and maybe their love. 

Away with that money, and enough of preaching religion in 
terms of patience, obedience, prudence, suffering, benefi¬ 
cence. Enough of beneficence, sandwiches, and cookies. You 
don’t defend the dignity' of men by giving away sandwiches 
and cookies, but by teaching them to say, I’m entitled to ham! 
We priests are responsible for the fatalism with which the poor 
have always resigned themselves to being poor, the underde¬ 
veloped nations to being underdeveloped. And by going on 
this way we prove the Marxists are right when they say that 
religions are an alienated and alienating force, namely the 
opium of the people! 

O.F.: My goodness, Dom Helder! But does Paul VI know you say 
these things too? 

H.C.: He knows, he knows. And he doesn’t disapprove. It’s just that 
he can’t speak the way 1 do. He has certain people around 
him, poor man! 

O.F.: Listen, Dom Helder, but do you really think that nowadays 
the Church can have a role in the search for and application 
of justice? 

H.C.: Oh, no. Let’s get the idea out of our heads that after having 
caused so much trouble the Church can allow itself such a 
role. We have the duty to render that service, yes, but without 
ostentation. Without forgetting that the most serious guilt 
belongs to us Christians. Last year I participated for a week in 
Berlin at a round table of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, 
Marxists. There we discussed the great problems of the world, 
examined what we’d done, and concluded that religions have 
a great debt toward humanity, but that the Christians, or 
rather the Catholics, have the biggest debt. How do you ex¬ 
plain that that handful of countries that have in their hands 
eighty percent of the world’s resources are Christian countries 
and often Catholic? So I conclude: if a hope exists, it lies in 
the effort of all religions put together. Not in the Catholic 
Church alone or in Christian religions alone. By now there’s 
not a single religion that has many possibilities. Peace can 

Helder Camara 


only be reached thanks to those whom Pope John called men 
of good will. 

O.F.: They're a minority without any power, Dom Helder. 

H.c. : It's the minorities that count. It's the minorities that have 
always changed the world, by rebelling, by fighting, and then 
by awakening the masses. Some priest here, some guerrilla 
there, some bishop here, some journalist there. Pm not trying 
to flatter you, but I must tell you that I’m one of the few peo¬ 
ple who like journalists. Who, if not the journalists, report in¬ 
justices and inform millions and millions of people? Don’t cut 
this remark out of the interview: in the modern world journal¬ 
ists are an important phenomenon. 

There was a time when you came to Brazil only to talk 
about our butterflies, our parrots, our carnival, in short our 
folklore. Now instead you come here and raise the problems of 
our poverty, of our tortures. Not all of you, of course—there 
are also the thoughtless ones who don’t care if we die of hun¬ 
ger or electric shocks. Not always with success, of course— 
your thirst for truth stops where the interests of the enterprise 
you serve begin. But God is good, and sometimes he sees to it 
that your bosses aren’t very intelligent. Thus, with God’s bless¬ 
ing, the news always gets through, and once it’s printed it 
rebounds with the speed of a rocket directed at the moon, then 
spreads like a river overflowing its banks. The public isn’t 
stupid, even if it’s silent. It has eyes and ears, even if it has no 
mouth. And the day always comes when it thinks back on 
what it’s read. I’m only waiting for it to read this ultimate 
truth: one mustn’t say that the rich are rich because they’ve 
worked harder or are more intelligent. One mustn’t say that 
the poor are poor because they’re stupid and lazy. When hope 
is lacking and one inherits only poverty, it no longer does any 
good to work or be intelligent. 

O.F.: Dom Helder, if you weren’t a priest . . . 

H.c. : You needn’t bother to ask—I can’t even imagine being any¬ 
thing but a priest. Just think, I consider the lack of imagina¬ 
tion a crime, and yet I haven’t the imagination to see myself as 
not a priest. For me, being a priest isn’t just a choice, it’s a 
way of life. It’s what water is for a fish, the sky for a bird. I re- 



ally believe in Christ; Christ to me is not an abstract idea— 
he's a personal friend. Being a priest has never disappointed 
me, nor given me regrets. Celibacy, chastity, the absence of a 
family in the way you laymen understand it, all this has never 
been a burden to me. If I’ve missed certain joys, I’ve had and 
have others so much more sublime. If you only knew what I 
feel when I say Mass, how I become one with it! The Mass for 
me is truly Calvary and the Resurrection; it’s a mad joy! 

Look, there are those who are born to sing, those who are 
born to write, those who are born to play soccer, and those 
who are born to be priests. I was bom to be a priest—I started 
saying so at the age of eight and certainly not because my 
parents had put the idea in my head. My father was a Mason 
and my mother went to church once a year. I even remember 
that one day my father got frightened and said, “My son, 
you’re always saying you want to be a priest. But do you know 
what that means? A priest is someone who doesn’t belong to 
himself, because he belongs to God and to men, someone 
who must dispense only love and faith and charity. ...” And 
I said, “I know. That’s why I want to be a priest.” 

O.F.: Not a monk, however. Your telephone rings too often, and 
that wall hit by the machine guns wouldn’t be suitable for a 

H.C.: Oh, you’re wrong! I carry a monastery inside myself. Maybe 
there’s little of the mystic in me, and even in my direct en¬ 
counters with Christ I’m as impertinent as Christ would want. 
But there always comes a moment when I isolate myself in the 
manner of a monk. At two in the morning I always wake up, 
get up, get dressed, and gather up the pieces I’ve scattered dur¬ 
ing the day: an arm here, a leg there, the head who knows 
where. I sew myself back together again; all alone, I start 
thinking or writing or praying, or I get ready for Mass. During 
the day I’m a frugal man. I eat little, I detest rings and pre¬ 
cious crucifixes, as you see; I rejoice in gifts that are right at 
hand: the sun, the water, people, life. Life is beautiful, and I 
often wonder why to sustain life one should kill another life— 
whether it’s a man or a tomato. Yes, I know that while chew¬ 
ing the tomato I make it become Dom Helder and thus ideal¬ 
ize it, make it immortal. But the fact remains that I’m destroy- 

Helder Camara 


ing the tomato—why? It’s a mystery I don’t succeed in 
fathoming and so I set it aside, saying never mind, a man is 
more important than a tomato. 

O.F.: And when you’re not thinking of the tomato, Dom Helder, 
doesn’t it ever happen to you to be a little less of a monk and a 
little less of a priest? In short, to get angry with men who are 
worth less than a tomato and dream of at least hitting them 
with your fists? 

H.C.: If that were to happen, I’d be a priest with a rifle on my 
shoulder. And I very' much respect the priests with rifles on 
their shoulders; I’ve never said that to use arms against an 
oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian. But it’s not my choice, 
it’s not my road, it’s not my way of applying the Gospels. So 
when I get angry, and I notice it by the fact that words no 
longer come out of my mouth, I stop and say, “Calm down, 
Dom Helder!” Yes, I understand, you aren’t able to combine 
what I just said with what I said before: on one side the mon¬ 
astery, on the other politics. But what you call politics for me 
is religion. Christ didn’t play the oppressors’ game, he didn’t 
give in to those who told him if you defend the young people 
who kidnapped the ambassador, if you defend the young people 
who rob banks to buy weapons, you’re committing a crime 
against the fatherland and the state. The Church w'ants me to 
busy myself wdth the liberation of the soul, but how can I lib¬ 
erate a soul if I don’t liberate the body that contains that soul? 
I want to send men to heaven, not puppies. Much less puppies 
with empty bellies and crushed testicles. 

O.F.: Thank you, Dom Helder. It seems to me that about says it all, 
Dom Helder. But now what will happen to you? 

H.C.: Bah! I don’t hide myself, I don’t defend myself, and it 
wouldn’t take much courage to bump me off. But I’m con¬ 
vinced they can’t kill me if God doesn’t want it. If instead God 
does want it, because he thinks it’s right, I accept that as his 
grace—who knows, my death could even help. I’ve lost almost 
all my hair, the little that’s left is white, and I don’t have many 
more years to live. So their threats don’t frighten me. In short, 
it’ll be a little hard for them, that way, to make me shut up. 
The only judge I accept is God. 

Recife , August 1970 

Archbishop Makarios 

At a certain point I said to Makarios, “You remind me of Jane Aus¬ 
ten's advice." Makarios smiled. “What advice of Jane Austen's?" 
“An intelligent woman should never let others know how in¬ 
telligent she is." Makarios smiled again. “But I'm not a woman." 
“No, but you're intelligent, so intelligent that you're doing all you 
can to keep me from realizing it," I said. And then his gaze hard¬ 
ened, something in him arched, like the back of a cat preparing it¬ 
self for combat. I too arched myself, waiting for the blow of his 
claws, and ready to give it back. The blow didn’t come. With the 
same rapidity with which he had flared up, he regained his com¬ 
posure and went on with his story. “As I was telling you, I'm lucky. 
I know already what the newspapers will write when I pass to a bet¬ 
ter life. Last July I read such nice obituaries about myself. They 
gave me up for dead, remember? The cables to my ambassadors 
were nice too. The nicest came from Lord Caradon, the last British 
governor of Cyprus and a great enemy. I met Lord Caradon in 
London. We got to talking about the old days when we used to 
quarrel over the British bases on Cyprus. I told him those bases had 
been good for just one thing: to give me refuge after the coup d’etat 
and help me leave the island." Every time his mind wanders and 
he forgets Jane Austen's advice, you're a little sorry. You want to 
shout at him, “Pay attention!" And it goes without saying that in 


Archbishop Makarios 


this interview his mind often wandered. Almost always. Which is 
one of the reasons I like Makarios. 

I hadn’t liked him before. Once I had even tried to show him 
that I didn’t, with the result that I had received his blessing. It was 
in Athens, at the time of the wedding of Juan Carlos and Sophia. 
He was staying at the Grande Bretagne, and I was staying there too. 
One evening he came down to the lobby, and as soon as he ap¬ 
peared, all dressed up like an icon, shining with gold and jewels, 
and gripping his pastoral scepter, the lobby became a chapel. Some 
bowed till their noses touched their navels, some knelt on the floor, 
some tried to kiss his hand or at least his vestments. The only erect 
head was mine, very visible besides, because I had remained seated 
on a high armchair. The chair was situated between the elevator 
and the exit, and he noticed me at once. And his eyes pierced mine 
like needles of indignation, surprise, sorrow. Who was I? How did I 
dare? However, he continued his solemn advance, and, as he 
passed in front of me, he imparted to me that blessing. 

Needless to say, I could have done happily without it. To the 
mind of a layman, he is irritating to say the least. Let us not forget 
that he represents the most solid fusion of the temporal power with 
the spiritual. He is like a pope who sits in the Quirinale instead of 
the Vatican; he is the head of the Greek Orthodox Church on 
Cyprus and the president of Cyprus. So, you never know whether 
to address him as a religious leader or a political one, whether to 
call him Beatitude or President, Archbishop or Mr. Makarios. Nor 
does the fact that he was democratically elected help you to forget a 
bitter reality: he gets those votes thanks to his relationship with 
heaven. For the peasants of Cyprus, voting for him is almost a sac¬ 
rament. While handing in their ballots with his name, even the 
communists make the sign of the cross. And yet, yet . . . lie’s one 
of the few heads of state before whom it’s worth the trouble to get to 
your feet if not to kneel down. Because he’s one of the few with 
brains. Along with brains, courage. Along with courage, a sense of 
humor, independence of judgment, dignity. A dignity that ap¬ 
proaches regality, and God knows where it comes from. The son of 
an illiterate shepherd, he guarded sheep until the age of twelve. 

Many people cannot stand him. They accuse him, for instance, 
of devoting or having devoted too much attention to women, of 



being in no sense an ascetic. I believe it. They also accuse him of 
governing through lies, intrigue, and opportunism. And this I don’t 
believe completely unless by lies you mean Byzantinism, by in¬ 
trigue, elasticity, by opportunism, imagination. His character can¬ 
not be judged by the yardstick we use in the West. He does not 
belong to the West. He belongs to something that is no longer the 
West but is not yet the East, something that sinks its roots into a 
culture that is sophisticated and archaic at the same time, and 
which has mastered the art of survival. He has the gift of survival, 
gained and regained through fast stepping, contortions, cleverness, 
lucidity, cynicism. Four times they tried to kill him. Four times he 
escaped. Twice they sent him into exile. Twice he came back. And 
only once did he seem to have lost for good—after the coup of July 
1974. Instead, those who lost were those who were thought to have 
won—as a result of that coup, the Greek military junta fell and 
now finds itself under arrest. If I close my eyes on the subject of the 
archbishop-president, I can’t help accepting Makarios and taking 
him seriously even when he tells me he’s a socialist. 

I interviewed him twice, for a total of six hours. The interview as 
written skips over such well-known incidents as the attempts on his 
life and his flight. I interviewed him in his suite in the Plaza Hotel 
in New York, where he had gone to keep an eye on Kissinger and 
the UN. No longer dressed up in gold and jewels, he wore a plain 
blue cassock and seemed older than his sixty-one years. His attitude 
was mild, deliberately humble. His voice was soft, deliberately 
suave. He said “he’s a criminal’’ in the same tone with which he 
might have said “he’s a good man.” I wasn’t bored for a minute, 
and indeed enjoyed myself. He knows how to be so brilliant. And 
at several moments I admired him. He cares so much about free¬ 
dom. We parted friends. In the doorway, he whispered, “That ad¬ 
vice of Jane Austen’s ... it goes for you too. What a pity you’re a 
woman.” And I answered, “What a pity you’re a priest.” 

ORIANA FALLACI: An abrupt question, Beatitude: are you going back 
to Cyprus or not? 

ARCHBISHOP MAKARIOS: Of course I’m going back. Certainly! I’ll go 
back in November. At the latest, the end of December. The 
date depends entirely on me. I haven’t gone back as yet be- 

Archbishop Makarios 


cause I was waiting for the Greek government to withdraw and 
replace the officers responsible for the coup against me. And 
also because I wanted to follow the UN debate on Cyprus 
from near by. I don’t understand why there should be any 
doubt about my return—after all I didn’t resign. Nothing and 
nobody is against my going back, except those who are afraid 
of being tried and punished, something I don’t intend to do 
since it would hurt the unity of the country. Mind you, that 
doesn’t mean I intend to let history have a distorted version of 
the facts. On the contrary, I want the world to know what hap¬ 
pened. But I want to avoid any punishment, any revenge. I’ll 
grant a general amnesty, and anyone who’s anxious about my 
return can calm his fears. Besides it’s only a question of a few 
individuals. The people support me today even more than 
before the coup. And they’re eager to have me back. They’re 
ninety-nine percent for me. 

O.F.: Ninety-nine percent of the population includes the Turkish 
Cypriots. And I don’t think they’re so eager to have you back, 

M.: Of course. I don’t think either that the majority of the Turks are 
in favor of me. I’m sure Mr. Dektas, the Turkish vice- 
president, is anything but pleased with the idea of seeing me 
arrive. But this doesn’t worry' me, and anyway it won’t be up 
to me to negotiate with Mr. Dektas and the Turkish commu¬ 
nity. That will still be done by Clerides, who’s an excellent 
negotiator and knows Dektas better than I do. Oh, naturally 
it’s understood that Clerides won’t make any decisions without 
my consent. It’s understood that when I speak of going back to 
Cyprus, I mean to go back as president. I’m the president, I’ll 
go back as president, 111 never agree to go otherwise. And the 
question of whether I ll remain president for a long time or not 
concerns me alone. I ll make that decision when I’m back in 
Cyprus. I m saying I don’t exclude the possibility of retiring 
from the presidency after a certain period of time. I’ll have to 
decide on the basis of the situation. Should a bad agreement 
be reached, for instance, I wouldn’t care to stay as president. 
But this, I repeat, we’ll see later on. 

O.F.: What do you mean by a bad agreement? 

M.: Turkey is going to insist on a geographical federation, and I will 



never accept a federation on a geographical basis. It would 
lead to a partition of the island and to a double enosis: half of 
Cyprus consigned to Greece and half to Turkey. It would 
mean the end of Cyprus as an independent state. I’m more 
than ready to discuss a federation, yes, but on an administra¬ 
tive basis not a geographical one. It’s one thing to have areas 
governed by Turks and areas governed by Greeks; it’s quite 
another to divide ourselves into two parts. It’s one thing to 
group, for example, two or three Turkish villages and entrust 
them to a Turkish administration; it’s quite another to shift 
more than two hundred thousand people from one end of the 
island to the other. The Turkish Cypriots are scattered all over 
Cyprus. How can you say to them, “Pack up your things, 
leave your house, your land, and move elsewhere because 
we’re going to have a federation”?! It’s inhuman, to say the 

O.F.: Is this really what worries you, Beatitude? I mean the tragedy 
of the Turkish Cypriots? It doesn’t seem to me that so far 
they’ve been the object of much concern. They’ve been 
treated like second-class citizens and . . . 

M.: That’s not true! It’s not true! Though they’re a minority, they’ve 
had a lot of privileges, and they’ve behaved as though they 
represented the majority. We haven’t been the ones to mistreat 
them, it was their Turkish leaders, by forcing them to live in 
separate villages, blackmailing them, keeping them from co¬ 
operating wdth us even economically, and from progressing. 
They didn’t even let them do business with us, or help us to 
develop tourism. They weren’t our victims, they were their 
victims. Nobody can deny that a true democracy, and a good 
one, exists in Cyprus. In their newspapers the Turks could 
abuse me and insult me as much as they liked. They could 
come to see me at the archbishop’s palace whenever they 
liked. The trouble is they were obliged to come secretly, with¬ 
out their leaders knowing it. In mixed villages we had no 
problem living together, in the past and at the time of the 
Greco-Turkish war as well. What you say isn’t true. 

O.F.: And is it true that you deprived them of many constitutional 
privileges, Beatitude? 

M.: I deprived them of nothing. I simply complained about those 

Archbishop Makarios 


privileges because they only served to hamper the functioning 
of the state. The Constitution provides that they be repre¬ 
sented in the government at the ratio of thirty percent. And 
very often the Turkish Cypriots didn't have people capable of 
filling that thirty percent. There was, for example, a post that 
could have been filled by an intelligent Greek and it had to be 
given to an illiterate Turk just because he was a Turk. Once 
they voted against taxes. 1 tried to explain to them that a state 
can't survive if the citizens don't pay taxes, and they refused 
anyway. So I forced them to pay all the same. Was that an 
abuse? Another time, when I was about to go to Belgrade for 
the conference of nonaligned countries, Mr. Dektas tried to 
stop me from going by exercising his veto power. I told him, 
“Exercise it all you like. I’m going just the same." Was that an 

o.f. : Beatitude, whether you're right or wrong, the reality today is 
different. The Turks occupy forty percent of the island 
and . . . 

M.: And I don't accept it. Because I can’t recognize a fait accompli , 

I can’t legalize with my signature a situation created by the use 
of force. So-called realists advise me to negotiate a geographi¬ 
cal federation with the Turks; they say I should be less rigid. 
Instead of holding on to forty percent of the island, they re¬ 
peat, the Turks might be content with thirty percent. So be 
flexible. I don’t want to be flexible. 

O.F.: Flexible is a word dear to Henry Kissinger. Is he the one who 
says that? 

M.: Kissinger has never clearly told me he was in favor of a geo¬ 
graphical federation. He's never told me clearly what he's 
doing. He’s always talked about a “solution acceptable to both 
sides" and always repeated “we don't want to say openly what 
we're doing to persuade Turkey." So I can't state the he's actu¬ 
ally preparing the agreement that I reject, but I can tell you 
we're still in disagreement on many things. Many. If it wanted 
to, the United States could play a more decisive and precise 
role in this matter. Doesn’t it supply economic aid and arms to 
Turkey? Isn’t it the only one that could persuade or even force 
Turkey to be more reasonable? 

O.F.: Beatitude, do you think that what happened in Cyprus would 

3 i6 


have been possible without the tacit authorization of Kissinger 
and the Americans? 

M.: Ah! I think the United States and other countries knew in ad¬ 
vance that the Turks were preparing the invasion of Cyprus. 
And perhaps they were fooled by the Turks, perhaps they fell 
into the trap when Turkey said it would be a limited opera¬ 
tion—a police action to restore constitutional order in two 
days. Perhaps they understood only later what Turkey’s real 
plans were. But all the same they could have prevented what 
happened. They could have stopped the continuous arrival of 
Turkish troops. I had a long discussion with Kissinger about it. 
And I expressed to him all my disappointment; I told him in 
no uncertain terms how dissatisfied 1 was with the attitude 
held by his country. 

O.F.: And he? 

M.: He answered that he didn’t agree with me, that he had tried to 
persuade Turkey, that he had acted behind the scenes. But 
again he didn’t want to explain clearly what he had done. 

O.F. : Beatitude, many people feel that Kissinger’s responsibility and 
that of the United States go well beyond the Turkish invasion 
of Cyprus. Let’s not forget that the invasion took place follow¬ 
ing the coup carried out against you by the junta in Athens 
and that . . . 

M.: Of course! The first chapter of this tragedy was written by the 
Greek military junta. Cyprus had been first of all destroyed by 
the intervention of Greece. Turkey came later, like a second 
evil. And I’m sorry to say so. I’m sorry because the present 
Greek government is behaving well toward me, in a frank and 
honest manner. I’ve not met Karamanlis or Averoff, but I’ve 
known Mavros. And I like Mavros. He’s a good man. He’s sin¬ 
cere, open, and that’s more than enough for me. But the fact 
remains that Greece would not have regained its freedom if 
Cyprus hadn’t lost its own. The fact remains that Turkey 
would never have dared intervene if the previous government, 
the junta, hadn’t offered it the pretext. The Turks had been 
threatening to invade us for such a long time, and yet they’d 
never done it. They’d never found an excuse. 

O.F. : Yes, but don’t you think the United States and the CIA had 
something to do with that coup d'etat? There are rumors that 

Archbishop Makarios 317 

the CIA wasn’t exactly unhappy about the attempts on your 

M.: As regards those attempts, I don’t believe it. Before the last one, 
in fact, it was people at the American embassy in Nairobi, 
during a trip I took to Africa, who informed me my life was in 
danger. They came to me and said, “We know that when you 
go back they’ll try to kill you. Be careful.” A few days later, in 
Cyprus, they confirmed the information to me, adding that 
the attempt would take place within two weeks. As indeed 
happened. As for the coup d'etat , on the other hand ... I 
don’t know. Kissinger told me, “It wasn’t in our interests to 
have that coup d'etat against you.” I suppose I ought to believe 
him, but should I? There are plenty of indications that show 
just the opposite of what Kissinger told me, and still I have 
nothing to go on. I’ve even asked for information from Athens; 
I’ve tried to find out more. No use. I have to keep my idea 
without being able to offer any proof that it’s correct. Kissinger 
added, “Naturally we were following the situation and it was 
known to us that neither Ioannides nor the rest of the junta 
liked you. But we had no concrete information as to ‘the day’ 
when the coup d'etat against you would take place.” 

O.F.: Maybe it was helped along by the letter you wrote to Gizikis 
in July. 

M.: Let’s say that that letter speeded things up. If I hadn’t written it, 
the coup would have happened all the same, a month or two 
later. As Kissinger admits, it had been more than decided on; 
all that remained was to set the date. I was too big an obstacle 
to enosis , and they were too anxious to have enosis. Every time 
we were on the point of reaching an agreement between Greek 
Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, officials in Athens intervened 
by shouting about enosis . “We don’t care about your local 
agreements, our goal is enosis .” I remember one of these of¬ 
ficials who came to me one day and said, “You must declare 
enosis. Anyway it will take three or four days before the Turks 
can send troops to Cyprus. In the meantime the United States 
will intervene and keep them from invading the island. In a 
week enosis will be a fait accompli." Maybe they really be¬ 
lieved that annexation to Greece was a viable alternative. Any¬ 
way they expected me to take orders from Athens, they wanted 



me to obey like a puppet, and that's absolutely impossible with 
my temperament. I obey only myself. 

O.F.: So you too were expecting the coup. 

M.: No. I never thought they'd be so stupid as to order a coup 
against me. In fact, to me it seemed impossible that they 
wouldn't consider its consequences. I mean Turkish interven¬ 
tion. At the most I thought they might do such a thing by 
making a deal with Turkey, that is, authorizing Turkey to in¬ 
tervene so that Greece could then respond, to be followed by 
partition and double enosis. I went on thinking so even after 
the coup, when I got to London. It took some time for me to 
realize that Ioannides had simply acted out of a lack of in¬ 
telligence. And yet I knew him. In 1963 and 1964 he had 
been in Cyprus as an officer of the National Guard, and one 
day he came to see me, accompanied by Sampson, in order to 
“explain to me secretly a plan that would settle everything." 
He had bowed to me, he had kissed my hand most respect¬ 
fully, then: “Beatitude, here's the plan. To attack the Turkish 
Cypriots suddenly, everywhere on the island. To eliminate 
them one and all. Stop." I was flabbergasted.' I told him I 
couldn't agree with him, that I couldn't even conceive the 
idea of killing so many innocent people. He kissed my hand 
again and went away in a huff. I tell you, he's a criminal. 

O.F.: Do you find Papadopoulos better? 

m.: I’d say yes. If I had to choose between Papadopoulos and Ioan¬ 
nides, I'd choose Papadopoulos. At least he’s more intelligent, 
or, if you prefer, less stupid. I met him for the first time when 
he came to Cyprus, shortly after his coup, as minister for the 
presidency, and no one can say that at that time I was paying 
him any great consideration. But I saw him again a couple of 
times in Athens, when I went there to discuss the problem of 
Cyprus, and I must say that on those occasions he seemed to 
me much smarter. In any case, supplied with common sense. 
Well, Papadopoulos was suffering from megalomania, and be¬ 
sides I don't know what he really thought about Cyprus. On 
the other hand, he was capable of controlling many situations 
simultaneously, and he was head and shoulders above his col¬ 
laborators. I don't even think he hated me, in the beginning. 

Archbishop Makarios 319 

He started hating me later, in the last two years. And maybe 
only in the last year. 

O.F.: And you, Beatitude, are you capable of hating? 

M.: Well, let’s say that the feeling we call hatred is part of human 
nature. You can’t stop anyone from feeling it once in a while. 
And though I don’t like to admit it, since 1 must preach love, 
there are moments when . . . well, when ... All right, let’s 
say that I don’t like certain people. Why are you smiling? 

O.F.: Because you make me think of certain Renaissance popes who 
led their armies in war, and I can’t understand to what extent 
you’re a priest. So I conclude that maybe you’re not a priest at 
all, but a big politician dressed as a priest. 

M.: You’re wrong. I’m a priest first and then a politician. Better 
still, I’m not a politician at all. I’m a priest, first of all a priest, 
above all a priest. A priest who has been asked to be head of 
state and consequently a politician. But one would say you 
don’t much like that. 

O.F.: No, and I’m dismayed by it. In the world I live in, the 
struggle of laymen consists precisely in not allowing the spiri¬ 
tual power to be confused with the temporal power, and in 
keeping a religious leader from becoming a political one. 

M.: In my world, on the other hand, it’s fairly common. And all 
the more so in Cyprus, where the archbishop, like the 
bishops, is elected directly by the people, with universal suf¬ 
frage. In other words, in Cyprus, the archbishop isn’t only a 
representative and administrator of the Church, he’s also a na¬ 
tional figure. The ethnarch. And then, in my opinion, the 
Church should interest itself in all aspects of life—the Chris¬ 
tian religion doesn’t confine itself to taking care of the moral 
progress of men, it’s also concerned with their social well-be¬ 
ing. I see no conflict between my position as priest and my 
position as president. I see nothing scandalous about my hold¬ 
ing both the temporal and spiritual power. Besides I don’t lean 
on a party; I’m not the leader of a political party who goes 
around asking people to elect him. I simply serve the people in 
the two capacities that they insistently and almost unani¬ 
mously offered me. As I explained many years ago to another 
layman, Prime Minister George Papandreou, I’m strong be- 



cause I’m weak. Because I have neither a party nor an army 
nor a police force behind me. And because I don’t even know 
the rules of politics. Because I follow certain principles that 
are Christian principles and not games, tricks, political ma¬ 

O.F.: Oh, come off it, Beatitude! You, who are a past master in the 
most Byzantine game of compromise. You, who are consid¬ 
ered the most brilliant specialist in intrigue and calculation. 

M.: No! 1 don’t use those methods, I don’t! I yield to compromises, 
of course, but never to anything that’s not clear and honest. 
I’m not a saint. But I’m an honest man, and I don’t believe 
politics has to be dishonest. I don’t think that in order to have 
success, it’s necessary to indulge in deceit. Do you know why 
my people love me? Do you know why they forgive all the 
mistakes I make? Because they understand that those mistakes 
are caused by bad judgment, not by bad intentions. You must 
not confuse me with the popes of the past, and in fact, if you 
were to ask me, I have a very negative opinion of them. I real¬ 
ly try to bring Christian teachings into the maze of the office 
that’s been entrusted to me and which I accepted. I’ll give you 
an example. In Cyprus we have capital punishment, and as 
head of state, I’m the one who has to put his signature on 
death sentences. But executions in Cyprus are very rare, be¬ 
cause every time a condemned man appeals to me, I let him 
off. Everyone in Cyprus knows the death penalty is nominal, 
that I always suspend executions. Those popes went to war, 
but I don’t accept war, I consider it a madness that’s destined 
to end someday, to be remembered with disbelief. I don’t ac¬ 
cept bloodshed. 

O.F.: Excuse me, Beatitude, but you were the one who actually 
said, at the beginning of the struggle for the independence of 
Cyprus, “Much blood will have to flow.” 

M.: I can’t possibly have said it that way. Maybe I said, “The road 
to freedom is irrigated with blood,” something like that. 
Maybe I said, “We’ll have to die,” but not, “We’ll have to 
kill.” 1 was in favor of sabotage, yes, but on condition that it 
didn’t cost the blood of innocent people. All that killing took 
place when I was in exile and couldn’t do anything to stop it. 
Oh, I’m not the terrible person you think! 

Archbishop Makarios 321 

O.F. : Well see. But now let’s forget about Cyprus and talk about 
you. First of all, why did you become a priest? 

M.: 1 always wanted to be a priest. Ever since I was a child. I was 
barely thirteen when I entered the monastery. But the reason 
is hard for me to explain. Maybe I’d been impressed by my 
visits to the monasteries around my village. I liked the monas¬ 
teries so much. Life there was so different from the kind we 
led in the village, and I sometimes wonder if for me the 
monastary wasn’t a way of escaping the sheep, the poverty. My 
father was a shepherd. And he always wanted me to help him 
look after the sheep, and 1 didn’t like looking after the sheep. 
In fact, he used to complain and say, “I can’t expect anything 
from my elder son! If I need help when I’m an old man, I’ll 
have to turn to my younger son!” He said it so often that in 
the last years of his life, when I was already archbishop, I liked 
to tease him: “Do you remember when you used to grumble 
and say you couldn’t expect anything from me?” He was very 
religious, like everyone in the family, but he couldn’t under¬ 
stand why on Sunday morning I left the sheep to run to the 
monastery and help the priest say Mass. I was twelve years old 
when 1 told him I wanted to take that path, and he got angry. 
But I wasn’t scared, I was so sure that nothing would be able 
to stop me. 

O.F. : And your mother? 

m.: I don’t remember my mother very well. She died when I was 
very small; I don’t even have a picture of her. In those days, 
the poor didn’t get their pictures taken, especially in the 
mountains of Cyprus. About my mother, I only remember the 
day she got ill. There was only one doctor in the whole dis¬ 
trict, and my father set out on foot to look for him. He had no 
idea in what village he might find him, and went wandering 
around for hours, and finally he came back dragging the doc¬ 
tor like a sheep. The doctor used the same pill for all illnesses. 
Aspirin, I guess. He gave my mother the pill, and she died 
soon after. I remember the funeral. I remember the nights I 
slept with my father, because with him I could cry better. And 
I remember the night when he too started crying, and I said, 
“If you’ll stop crying, I’ll stop too.” And then I remember my 
grandmother taking me away, and the relatives saying to my 



father, “You’re young, you should get married again. Also for 
the children.” Besides myself, there was my little brother, and 
my little sister who had just been born. And one day they 
brought me home to meet my new mother—Father had got 
married again. My new mother was a woman in the middle of 
the room, and she kept whispering, “Come in, come in!” I 
didn’t want to go in because I didn’t know her. But then I 
went in and soon I loved her. She was nice. She’s still alive, 
and still nice, and I still love her. Very much. Oh, it’s so dif¬ 
ficult, and also so easy, to tell you where I come from. My fa¬ 
ther couldn’t read or write. Neither could my mother, nor my 
grandmother, nor my stepmother. I think my father resigned 
himself to the idea of letting me go into the monastery because 
there I would learn to read and write. When he took me there, 
he kept urging me: “Be obedient, study ...” 

O.F.: Were you disobedient then too? You just told me that you 
only obey youself. 

M.: I was shy. I was so shy that in school I didn’t even have the 
courage to get up and show that I’d studied the lesson. When 
the teacher called on me, I blushed and my tongue got para¬ 
lyzed. But not even then was I able to obey. Take the story of 
the beard. When 1 was twenty years old, the abbot of the 
monastery ordered me to let my beard grow. And a novice 
isn’t obliged to grow a beard. I refused, and he got angry. “Ei¬ 
ther you obey or out you go.” “All right, I’ll go.” Then I 
packed my bag—I knew exactly what would happen. “You 
mustn’t go! Stay.” “All right, I’ll stay.” “But grow a beard.” 
“No, no beard.” “Look out or I’ll beat you.” “Beat me.” He 
started beating me, and while he was beating me, he yelled, 
“Will you let it grow?” “No.” “Now will you let it grow?” 
“No.” Finally he sat down, exhausted. “Please. Let it grow a 
little. Just a little, so I won’t lose face.” “No.” “Just the little 
bit needed to make people ask whether you have one or not.” I 
smiled. “This little bit?” “Yes.” “Like now?” “Yes.” “Not even 
a millimeter more?” “Not even a millimeter more.” “All 
right.” And a compromise was reached without my giving in 
to obedience. 

O.F.: Revealing, I’d say. 

M.: It’s my strategy. It always has been. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed 

Archbishop Makarios 


the game of pushing myself to the edge of the abyss and then 
stopping so as not to fall. You see what 1 mean? It’s not that I 
stop at the last moment because I realize the abyss is there; I 
calculate to the millimeter that I can go that far and no fur¬ 
ther. The others, naturally, think I'm about to fall, to commit 
suicide. Instead I go along very quietly, knowing I’ll put on 
the brakes. It was the same with the abbot. I hadn’t the slight¬ 
est intention of leaving the monastery; I liked it too much. But 
I knew that by making him believe the contrary and taking his 
beating, he’d give in and accept a compromise that for me was 
a victory. 

O.F.: And has there been any case when your calculations didn’t 
work, when destiny decided for you? 

m.: I don’t believe in destiny. Everyone makes his own destiny. At 
the most there exist unforeseen circumstances, which one 
must know how to take advantage of. I, for instance, hadn’t 
foreseen that I’d become bishop at the age of thirty-five and 
archbishop at thirty-seven. . . . But that’s a story worth tell¬ 
ing. After seven years in the monastery, three of which were 
spent studying at the high school in Nicosia, I was sent to 
Athens to take my degree in law and theology. There I was 
caught by the war, the Italian and then the German occupa¬ 
tion, a tough as well as adventurous period. After the libera¬ 
tion, however, I got a scholarship in the United States and 
went to Boston. I liked America—they’d given me, among 
other things, a small Greek Orthodox parish. I decided to stay 
there for five years instead of the three that had been arranged 
and take my teaching degree in theology. And here the plan 
failed. Two years had barely gone by, in fact, when I received 
a cable from Cyprus informing me that a certain district 
wanted to elect me its bishop. I was alarmed. I didn’t want to 
leave America, I didn’t want to go back to Cyprus. Cyprus 
meant nothing to me except a vague geographical knowledge. 
And a limited one at that, since all I had seen were the moun¬ 
tains where I was born, the monastery where I d grown up, 
and the school in Nicosia where I’d studied. Do you know I 
was eighteen when I saw the sea for the first time? I cabled 
back: “Many thanks but l don’t want to become bishop stop.” 

O.F.: Are you telling me you weren’t ambitious? 

3 2 4 


M.: Of course I was! No priest can be happy if he doesn’t succeed in 
an ecclesiastical career. But my ambitions were different. The 
fact is that no sooner had I sent my reply when a second cable 
arrived: “Elections held. People elected you unanimously.” It 
was 1948, the eve of the struggle for independence. Sadly I 
took a plane to Athens, and I remember that there I kept ask¬ 
ing everybody, “Will I find a taxi at the Nicosia airport?” 
Then I took the plane from Athens to Nicosia and . . . I’ve 
already told you that in Cyprus the election of a bishop is 
something very democratic. The people participate in it spon¬ 
taneously, enthusiastically, and without tricks. But I didn’t tell 
you that it arouses a mad fanaticism. And I can’t stand fanati¬ 
cism. In any form. So you can imagine how I felt when, going 
out to look for a taxi, I saw this incredible crowd fanatically 
shouting my name. I recovered myself if only to utter what 
was to be my first political statement: “You wanted me. So I 
shall dedicate myself to the Church and to Cyprus. And I’ll 
do everything I can to help Cyprus win its freedom and break 
the chains of colonialism.” Then I saw myself lifted up and 
taken to Larnaca, the district where I’d been elected. And 
from that moment on, Cyprus became my life. 

O.f. : A good life, Beatitude. A lucky life, let’s face it. 

M.: A tough, difficult life, full of assassination attempts, of risks, 
anxiety, and exile. I was in the Resistance against the British. 
Still it’s true that two years later, when the archbishop died, I 
was triumphantly elected in his place, thus becoming the 
youngest head of a Church in the whole world. It’s true that I 
liked it. But it doubled my political commitment and cost me 
exile. To get rid of me, the British sent me to the Seychelles 
and ... Of course, when I look back on it today, that exile 
seems anything but tragic. Actually it wasn’t an exile, it was a 
vacation. I was given a nice house where I was served and 
respected. The landscape was marvelous, so marvelous that I 
wanted to see it again, and I went back as a tourist and even 
bought a little piece of land near the same house, which the 
owner, unfortunately, didn’t want to sell. The British treated 
me well and didn’t keep me there long—just eleven months. 
But at that time I didn’t know it and thought they’d keep me 
for at least ten years or forever. I had no idea what was going 

Archbishop Makarios 


on in Cyprus, I had no radio, no newspapers, and I couldn’t 
speak with anyone. And . . . 

O.F.: And? 

M.: Well, all right, I’ll tell you. I wasn’t born for the contemplative 
life. I can stay shut up for a week in this suite in the Plaza, but 
on the eighth day I have to go out, see people, do something, 
live. You’ll object: didn’t the monastery teach you anything? 
Well, our monasteries aren’t very strict—those who stay inside 
them do so by choice and not because they’re forced to. And 
no one says I should go back and live in a monastery. I prefer 
to do what I’m doing and . . . why should I go back to a 

O.F.: So I was right to compare you with those popes. Besides I’ve 
never believed in the picture some people paint of you: asce¬ 
tic, vegetarian . . . 

m.: I’m not a vegetarian! I like vegetables but I also eat meat. One 
of my most painful memories is a certain official dinner that 
was offered me in India. The waiter came over and asked me, 
'‘Are you vegetarian?” I thought he was asking if I liked vegeta¬ 
bles and I answered yes. Then he put a flc .ver beside my plate 
and for the whole meal served me nothing but vegetables. I 
was consumed with envy seeing the others devouring chicken, 
fish, steaks. In fact, now whenever they put a flower in my 
hand, I get suspicious. 

O.F.: But I was referring to other flowers, Beatitude. It seems you 
were once at a party where a dancer did a wild belly dance, 
and you’re said to have remarked, “The beauty of woman is a 
gift of God.” 

M.: I don’t know that incident. It’s true, I love popular dances, I 
like folklore . . . 

O.F.: No, no, I wasn’t talking about folklore. I was talking about 
belly dancing. I was trying to ascertain that you’re not one of 
those priests who pray from morning to night and . . . 

M.: I’m usually a very simple man. At the same time, however 
. . . What should I say? . . . When necessary ... I make 
certain . . . adjustments. I like to walk, for instance, to run, 
to climb mountains, to keep in shape. Also because I like 
sports and I dislike fat people. So whenever I can, I take an ex¬ 
cursion, I walk in the woods. . . . Under my robe, you see, I 



wear trousers. If I always dress this way, in robes, even at 
home, it’s because my people are used to seeing me in a cas¬ 
sock and I can’t disappoint them. But cocktail parties bore me, 
and so do worldly things. . . . 

O.F.: I still haven’t made myself clear, Beatitude. Maybe it’s better 
to call things by their right names. I was referring to women, 
to the rumors that you’re very fond of women. They even say 
that in Cyprus you have two, well, two wives. 

M.: Come now. In the Orthodox Church, bishops and archbishops 
can’t marry. Only priests can. But then they don’t become 

O.F.: I know. I said “wives” to be polite. 

M.: . . . 

O.F.: Isn’t it true you're very fond of women? 

M.: . . . 

O.F.: All right, let’s change the subject. They also say you’re not a 
sincere man, that a word of truth never comes out of your 
mouth. Do you think a head of state should be permitted to 
tell lies? 

M.: No, this is something I can’t accept. I’m so incapable of telling 
lies, any lie, that when I can’t tell the truth, I prefer to keep 
silent. Silence is always better than lies. Look, during the 
Resistance struggle, the British arrested me several times. After 
being arrested, I was interrogated, and naturally I couldn’t 
deny what I was doing. And then everyone knew I had con¬ 
tacts with Grivas. So, in order not to lie, I answered, “I can’t 
say anything. I don’t want to say anything. I refuse to answer.” 
And I kept silent. 

O.F.: Just what you did with me when I asked you about women. 

M.: What did I say? 

O.F.: Nothing. 

M.: The perfect answer. 

O.F.: I’m beginning to like you, Beatitude. And at this point it pains 
me to insist on the ugly things they say about you. For in¬ 
stance, that you rule through favors, and that you’re very rich, 
and that . . . 

M.: I possess nothing. Absolutely nothing except that little piece of 
land in the Seychelles. I haven’t a penny in any bank in the 
world. I have nothing but a kind of salary, which I can use as I 

Archbishop Makarios 


like, but it’s very small. I administer the properties of the 
Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus, it’s true, and as arch¬ 
bishop I can dispose of anything that belongs to the arch¬ 
bishop’s palace, but I’m not authorized to use a single cent for 
myself. Theoretically, even my linen belongs to the arch¬ 
bishop’s palace. As for favors, I help many people, it’s true. 
But my friends less than anyone. And my relatives still less. 
My brother is my driver. That doesn’t seem to me a great ca¬ 
reer; also when you stop to think of the attempts that are made 
on my life. I stay in good hotels when I travel, it’s true. But do 
you know why? Because I have friends all over the world and 
they’re anxious to pay for me. In London, for instance, after 
the coup d’etat , I went to the Grosvenor House, where I 
always go. The next morning Charles Forte, whom I’d known 
from Cyprus where he wanted to open a hotel, came to me 
and said, “Do you know I’m the owner of the Grosvenor 
House?” I hadn’t known. "It will be an honor for me to have 
you as my guest for as long as you care to stay in London.” 
And so I didn’t pay. In fact, he even wanted me to be his guest 
in New York, at the Pierre, another hotel he owns. I didn’t ac¬ 
cept because I didn’t want to take advantage of him. 

O.F.: Yes, but then why do they call you the Red Archbishop? 

M.: I’ve never understood where that came from. Maybe from the 
fact that I’ve never made anticommunist propaganda. Or the 
fact that I follow a policy of nonalignment. Most of the non- 
aligned countries are accused of being leftist-oriented and even 
of looking to the Soviet Union. 

O.F.: Are you a socialist, Beatitude? 

M.: If you’re referring to Swedish socialism, not Soviet socialism, I 
can say I really have nothing against socialism. Among all 
social systems, it’s the closest to Christianity', to a certain 
Christianity, or at least to what Christian teaching should be. 
Christianity doesn’t favor any social system—it recognizes that 
any social system, from the capitalist one to the communist, 
can contain something good. But if I had to choose the best 
system, or the most Christian system, I’d choose socialism. I 
said socialism, not communism. And let me add that, in my 
opinion, the future belongs to socialism. It will end by prevail¬ 
ing, through a kind of osmosis between the communist coun- 



tries and the capitalist ones. Spiritually it's already happening. 
The socialist, that is, egalitarian, spirit is permeating all 
human relationships. Today equality is an almost spontaneous 

O.F.: You’re an optimist, Beatitude. 

M.: I always have been. And never at random. In the last thirty 
years a great change has happened in the world. Thirty years 
ago who would have imagined that colonialism would be over 
and that war would no longer be accepted as a means for sub¬ 
jugating a country? Who would have imagined that social 
hierarchies would no longer be accepted with conviction, that 
the word socialism would no longer be frightening? 

O.F.: But if you believe in socialism, how can you administer a 
church that’s one of the richest in the world? 

M.: Never so rich as the Catholic Church. And anyway the Church 
isn’t a reactionary force; it doesn’t represent the capitalist 
world. If it often goes to the right, the fault is only of its repre¬ 
sentatives. And the representatives of the Church aren’t the 
Church; the representatives of religion aren’t religion. When 
you think that not even the priests, bishops, archbishops, and 
theologians have been able to uproot religion from the hearts 
of men! I may be too optimistic, but even the Catholic 
Church leads me to make a positive judgment. It’s changed so 
much in recent years, thanks to Pope John. In 1961, when I 
was asked to stop in Rome on a state visit, I was invited by the 
pope. And naturally I had a great desire to go, but still I won¬ 
dered if I should. Our lack of understanding goes back so far. 
Not only had I never met a Catholic bishop, I’d never met a 
Catholic priest! I told myself that the other heads of the Ortho¬ 
dox Church would be offended. But soon after that the patri¬ 
arch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, met with Paul VI in 

O.F.: Did you feel at ease with the pope? 

M.: It was interesting. A pity all that protocol. 

O.F.: And who are the leaders with whom you’ve felt at ease? 

M.: Let’s say that some leaders, not many, have impressed me, and 
that others have left me indifferent. They were considered 
great men, but they were only men at the head of great coun¬ 
tries. Among those who impressed me, I’d put Jack Kennedy. 

Archbishop Makarios 329 

That childish face of his was really nice; it had a dignity of its 
own. Besides Kennedy was simple, human. Along with Ken¬ 
nedy, I’d put Tito. But Tito and I are friends; I like to think he 
has the same affection for me that I have for him. . . . He's 
such a dynamic man, full of clear ideas. And generous be¬ 
sides. '‘Anything you need, just let me know," he always says. 

I liked Nasser too. I remember meeting him at the first confer¬ 
ence of nonaligned countries, in Bandung in Indonesia. It was 
the first time he’d left Egypt, the first time he’d flown in a 
nonmilitary plane, and he was so excited. I found that touch¬ 
ing. As for Castro ... 1 don’t know. He has certain qualities 
necessary for a leader. With me he behaved . . . well, he 
behaved like Castro. Golda Meir is a very strong, interesting 
woman, but we disagree about too many things. We’ve met 
twice and we didn’t exactly throw our arms around each other. 
Sukarno ... he didn’t impress me. Nixon even less. An ordi¬ 
nary man, very ordinary'. And then . . . what do you want 
me to say? I like Constantine. Not because I’m a monar¬ 
chist —1 saw him coming into the world, I saw him grow up, 1 
like him. But I can’t say that because I shouldn’t be making 
political propaganda for him. 

O.F.: And Mao Tse-tung? 

M.: I wouldn’t say I have much in common with him. And I don’t 
know how to define the impression he made on me. His 
health, when I met him last May, really wasn’t good and . . . 
Let’s put it this way: in China he’s a kind of god. His finger¬ 
prints are everywhere, obsessively, and I’ve already told you 
that I hate fanaticism. I feel more at ease with Chou En-lai. 
Besides I’ve known him for nineteen years, since the Bandung 
Conference. Chou En-lai is so intelligent, so pleasant, with 
him you can even joke. He prepared a fabulous welcome for 
me—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Peking, 
a million in Shanghai. I kept saying to him, “You want to 
make me feel like somebody!’’ We also had fun when he 
started talking about our two countries, about the role they’d 
play in history. He kept repeating, “Our two countries . . 
Finally I interrupted and exclaimed, “Will you do me a favor? 
Will you stop talking about our two countries, about their his¬ 
torical roles? I feel ridiculous. How can you compare a little 



island of five hundred thousand inhabitants with a China of 
eight hundred million? What historical role can we have in 
common, we two? I’m a mosquito next to an elephant!” Mao 
Tse-tung was there too. He tried to smooth things over by say¬ 
ing that mosquitoes can sometimes give a lot of trouble, while 
elephants are innocent. But that didn’t go down with me. And 
I still kept my inferiority complex. 

O.F.: Do you often feel that inferiority complex? 

M.: Ah, yes. If it’s not inferiority, it’s uneasiness. During my visit to 
the Soviet Union, for instance, I stayed inside the Kremlin. 
Every morning I said to myself, “Good Lord! An archbishop 
inside the Kremlin!” Podgorny was nice and polite; he did 
nothing but smile at me, but he didn’t succeed in making me 
forget the paradox. To get out of it, I combined my state visit 
with a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church. And that was 
worse. The coronation ceremony for the new patriarch of 
Moscow was taking place just then, and the crowd was as 
numerous as in Peking, as in Shanghai. It was very hard for 
me to behave as though I really felt important. Look, there’s 
only one time when I lost that inferiority complex. 

O.F.: When? 

M.: When I visited Malta. 

O.F.: We can offer you San Marino. 

m.: They’ve never invited me. But I’ve felt comfortable in Africa 
too. Oh, it’s extraordinary the number of babies and streets 
that have been named after me in Africa! In Tanzania I did 
nothing but meet little black Makarioses, and the same in 
Zanzibar, though Zanzibar is Muslim. In Mombasa there’s a 
Makarios Avenue. And in Nairobi . . . Ah, Nairobi was the 
best of all, because in one week I baptized five thousand peo¬ 
ple. I’d been invited by Kenyatta, another leader who’s im¬ 
pressed me very much, and all of a sudden I had an idea. I 
asked, “How many people could I baptize if I stayed here a 
week?” They said, “As many as you like.” “Even fifty thou¬ 
sand?” “Even fifty thousand.” Well, fifty thousand was too 
much. I said, “Let’s do five thousand.” The first contingent 
arrived in two days, coming on foot from very distant villages. 
And naturally I should have baptized them in the river. But I 
didn’t want to run the risk. The water is polluted and I’m a 

Archbishop Makarios 

33 i 

hygienist. So I threw them all into a swimming pool, adults 
and children, and . . . For a week I did nothing but fill that 
pool. It was amusing because there’s a Catholic mission there 
that’s not too well liked because of its old ties with colo¬ 
nialism, and to baptize even a single person those poor mis¬ 
sionaries have to sweat like hell. Help women give birth, nurse 
babies, and what have you. For me instead it was quite sim¬ 
ple. 1 didn’t have to do any of those awful things, and the 
result is that in Africa I have at my disposal the largest concen¬ 
tration of black Orthodox Christians. Naturally they under¬ 
stood nothing about what it means to belong to the Greek Or¬ 
thodox Church. You meet some fellow on the street and ask 
him, “What religion do you belong to?” And he answers, “To 
Makarios’s religion!” But it’s all right just the same and . . . 
Look, I’ll always live in Cyprus. As I told you, Cyprus is now 
my life. But if I couldn’t live in Cyprus, I’d live in Africa. 

O.F.: And now I begin to understand something about you, Beati¬ 
tude. Good-bye, thank you, and see you again in Cyprus. 

M.: See you again in Cyprus. Come when you like. I’ll receive you 
as president. 

New York , November 1974 


Alexandras Panagoulis 

That day he had the face of a Jesus crucified ten times and he 
looked older than his thirty-four years. His pale cheeks were already 
furrowed by wrinkles, his black hair already showed wisps of white, 
and his eyes were two pools of melancholy. Or rage? Even when he 
laughed, you didn’t believe his laugh. Besides, it was a forced laugh 
that hardly lasted—like a burst of gunfire. His lips immediately 
locked themselves again in a bitter grimace, and in that grimace 
you looked in vain for a reminder of his health and youth. He had 
lost his health, along with his youth, the moment he was tied for 
the first time to the torture table and they had said to him, “Now 
you’re going to suffer so much you’ll be sorry you were ever bom.” 
But you understood at once that he wasn’t sorry to have been born; 
he had never been sorry and never would be. You understood at 
once that he was one of those men for whom even dying becomes a 
way of life, so well do they spend their lives. Neither the most 
atrocious tortures, nor the death sentence, nor three nights spent 
waiting to be shot, nor the most inhuman prison, five years in a 
concrete cell one and a half meters by three, had broken him. 

Two days earlier, coming out of the Boyati prison with the par¬ 
don granted by George Papadopoulos along with an amnesty for 
three hundred political prisoners, he had not uttered a single word 
that might have helped him to be left in peace. In fact, he had 



Alexandras Panagoulis 

declared contemptuously, “I didn’t ask for it, that pardon. They 
imposed it on me. I’m ready to go back to prison right now.” In¬ 
deed those who loved him feared for his safety, now, as much and 
more than before. Out of prison he was too disturbing for the colo¬ 
nels. Tigers on the loose are always disturbing. Those in power 
shoot at tigers on the loose or else they set a trap to put them back 
in the cage. How long would he remain in the open air? This was 
the first thing I thought that Thursday, August 23, 1973, on seeing 
Alexandras Panagoulis. 

Alexandras Panagoulis. Alekos to his friends and to the police. 
Born in Athens in 1939, son of Athena and Basil Panagoulis, who 
was an army colonel decorated in the Balkan War and in the First 
World War and in the war against the Turks in Asia Minor and in 
the civil war that lasted until 1950. Second of three brothers, dem¬ 
ocrats and antifascists all. Founder and head of Greek Resis¬ 
tance, the movement the colonels never succeeded in destroying. 
Author of the plot that on August 13, 1967, failed by a hairbreadth 
to cost Papadopoulos his life and bring down the junta. For this he 
had been arrested, tortured incessantly until the trial, where they 
had discovered that he was not an executor of orders but the leader 
of Greek Resistance, the movement that made up most of the 
opposition; and for this he had been condemned to death—a pen¬ 
alty that he himself had asked for in a defense speech that for two 
hours kept the judges spellbound. “You are the representatives of 
tyranny and 1 know you’ll send me before the firing squad. But I 
also know that the swan song of every true fighter is his final gasp 
before the firing squad.” That unforgettable trial. Never before had 
an accused been seen so transformed into an accuser. He arrived in 
the court with his hands handcuffed behind his back. The police 
took off the handcuffs and locked him in a vise that held him by 
the shoulders, the arms, the waist, but he jumped to his feet all the 
same, pointing his finger and shouting his contempt. 

So as not to make him a hero, they did not execute him. And it 
goes without saying that he became one all the same, because 
sometimes it is easier to die than to live as he lived. They trans¬ 
ported him from one prison to another, saying, “The firing squad is 
waiting for you.” They came into his cell and beat him almost to 
death. And for eleven months they kept him handcuffed, day and 



night, even though his wrists had begun to fester. Then periodically 
they kept him from smoking, from reading, from having a piece of 
paper and a pencil to write his poems. 

He wrote them all the same, on tiny pieces of onionskin from 
packages of the gauze they put on his wounds, using his blood for 
ink. “A match for a pen / blood that has dripped on the floor for 
ink / the package from some forgotten gauze for paper / But what 
do I write? / Maybe I only have time for my address / Strange, the 
ink has coagulated /1 write you from a prison / in Greece.” He even 
managed to send them outside the prison, those beautiful poems 
written with his blood. His first book had won the Viareggio Prize and 
he was now a recognized poet, translated into Italian and French, and 
on whom critics wrote essays, sententious literary analyses. But more 
than a poet he was a symbol. The symbol of courage, of dignity, of the 
love for freedom. 

All this troubled me, now that I was in his presence. How do 
you greet a man who has just come out of a tomb? How do you 
speak to a symbol? And I was nervously biting my nails—I re¬ 
member it perfectly. I remember it because I remember everything 
from that Thursday, August 23. The landing in Athens. The fear of 
not finding him though I had let him know of my arrival. The 
search for Aristofanos Street, in the Glifada quarter, where his 
house was. The taxi driver who finally found the house and began 
to shout and make the sign of the cross. The sultry day, my clothes 
sticking to my skin. The crowd of visitors who thronged the garden, 
the terrace, every comer of the house. The other journalists, the 
voices, the shoving. And him, sitting in the midst of chaos with the 
face of Christ. 

He looked very tired, indeed exhausted. But as soon as he saw 
me he sprang up like a cat, and ran to embrace me as though he 
had always known me. Anyway, if he hadn't always known me, we 
already knew each other. In those periods when he was allowed to 
read a few newspapers, he was to tell me, my articles had kept him 
company. And he had given me courage by the simple fact of exist¬ 
ing, of being what he was. So my worry about having to face a 
symbol instead of a man vanished. I returned his embrace, saying 
“ ciao ,” he replied “ ciao ,” and there were no other words of wel¬ 
come or felicitation. I simply added, “I have twenty-four hours to 
stay in Athens and prepare the interview. Immediately afterward I 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


must leave for Bonn. Is there a corner where we can work quietly?” 
He nodded silently and then, plowing his way through the crowd of 
visitors, led me into a room where there were many copies of one 
of my books in Greek. Besides these, there was a bouquet of red 
roses that he had sent to me at the airport and that had come back 
because the friend charged to welcome me had not been able to 
find me. Touched, I thanked him brusquely. But he understood 
my brusque tone because, for a moment, the melancholy look 
disappeared from his eyes and his pupils showed a flash of amuse¬ 
ment that dismayed me again. It was a flash that made you divine a 
host of tender and vehement feelings in conflict among themselves, 
a soul without peace. Would I be able to understand this man? 

We began the interview. And immediately I was struck by his 
voice, which was beguiling, resonant, almost guttural. A voice to 
persuade people. The tone was authoritative, calm, the tone of one 
who is very sure of himself and allows no replies to what he says 
since he has no doubts about what he says. He spoke, that is, like a 
political leader. While speaking, he smoked his pipe, which he al¬ 
most never took from his mouth. You would have said his attention 
was concentrated on that pipe, not on you, and this imparted to 
him a certain harshness that was intimidating since it was not a 
recent harshness, that is to say ripened by physical and moral 
agony, but an innate one and thanks to which he had been able to 
triumph over physical and moral agony. 

At the same time he was considerate, polite, and he left you al¬ 
most dumbfounded when, by a sudden veering—you know, the way 
a motorboat veers when it is proceeding directly and then suddenly 
turns to go back—his harshness broke into sweetness, as melting as 
the smile of a child. The way he poured you a beer, for instance. 
The way he touched your hand to thank you for some remark. This 
changed the features of his face, which, no longer sorrowing, be¬ 
came disarmed. His face was not handsome with its small, strange 
eyes, its large and still more strange mouth, its forehead too high, 
and, finally, those scars that ruined everything. On the lips, on the 
cheekbones. And yet quite soon he seemed almost handsome—an 
absurd, paradoxical handsomeness, and independently of his beau¬ 
tiful soul. 

No, perhaps I would never understand him. I decided from that 
first meeting that the man was a well of contradictions, surprises, 



egotism, generosity, illogicality, which would always enclose a 
mystery. But he was also an infinite fountain of possibilities, and a 
personality whose worth went well beyond that of a political per¬ 
sonality. Perhaps politics represented only a moment in his life, 
only a part of his talent. Perhaps, if they didn’t kill him soon, if 
they didn’t put him back in the cage, we would one day hear about 
him for heaven knows what other things. 

How many hours did we stay there talking in the room with the 
books and flowers? It’s the one detail I don’t remember. You’re not 
aware of time passing when you listen to what he had to tell. The 
story of the tortures, first of all, the origin of his scars. He had them 
all over his body, he told me. He showed me those on his hands, 
on his wrists, his arms, his feet, his chest. Here they were exactly 
where the wounds of Christ were—at the level of the heart. They 
had inflicted them on him, in the presence of Papadopoulos’ 
brother, Constantine, with a jagged paper knife. But he showed 
them to me with detachment and no self-pity, stiffened by an ex¬ 
cessive, almost cruel self-control. All the more cruel when you 
realized that his nerves had not emerged intact from those five years 
of hell. And this was revealed by his teeth when he bit his pipe; it 
was revealed by his eyes when they dimmed into lamps of hatred or 
mute contempt. Pronouncing the names of his torturers, in fact, he 
isolated himself in impenetrable pauses and failed even to answer 
his mother when she came in to ask if he wanted more beer or 

His mother came in often. She was old, dressed in black like the 
widows in Greece who do not give up their mourning, and her face 
was a network of wrinkles as deep as her suffering. Her husband 
dead of a broken heart while Alekos was in prison. Her eldest son 
disappeared. Her third son in prison. Furthermore she had been in 
prison herself, for four and a half months. But they hadn’t suc¬ 
ceeded in breaking even her. Neither by threats nor by blackmail. 
In a letter to a London newspaper, she once wrote of her sons: 
“Trees die on their feet.” 

At a certain point Eustace, the youngest brother, freed by the am¬ 
nesty only a few hours earlier, came into the room. Eustace, whom 
everyone called Stathis, seemed different. Prison had not impaired 
his youth, his health, his cheerfulness. He was a handsome boy 
with laughing eyes and prancing legs, the look of a baseball player. 

Alexandros Panagoulis 


He embraced Alekos without mawkishness, but so violently as to 
make his bones crack, then sat down to one side to listen; he almost 
tried to minimize his presence. You guessed him to be over¬ 
whelmed by his admiration for Alekos, his love for Alekos. It was 
for Alekos that in 1972 he had left Rome where he had taken ref¬ 
uge, and had returned secretly to Greece. He wanted to organize 
for him another escape attempt, and for this he had been arrested, 
tortured, and condemned to four years and nine months. Plus four 
and a half years as a draft dodger. However, he had been in prison 
before, for instance in 1967, and you lost no time in discovering 
that he was made from the same dough, or rather the same rock, 
that he was the third pillar of this extraordinary family. 

Ah, if only we had also seen George arrive from the garden! But 
George was not to arrive. No one knew anything more of George, 
the eldest brother who had followed his father’s career and attained 
the rank of captain. In August of 1967 George had refused to 
remain in the Greek army, and like Alekos had deserted. He had 
fled across the Evros River to Turkey, and arriving in Istanbul had 
sought asylum in the Italian embassy. To our shame, the Italian 
embassy had refused him asylum, beating about the bush over the 
necessity of informing the Turkish government, then the Italian 
government, and so on. George had fled again, this time to Syria, 
and in Damascus he once again appealed to the Italian embassy, 
which behaved in the same way. Nevertheless, an embassy more 
deserving of respect, a Scandinavian one, had taken him in, and 
there he had remained for a month, until the day he went out into 
the street and the Syrian police discovered him without a passport. 
Now fleeing from the Syrian police, he had reached Lebanon. 
From Lebanon he would have liked to embark for Italy, but did not 
do so since the Arab countries recognized the Greece of the 

He had preferred to cross over into Israel, a country that did not 
have diplomatic relations with the Greece of the colonels, and to 
go to Italy on a ship from Haifa. And instead, in Haifa, the Israelis 
had arrested him. George had trusted them, he had told them who 
he was, and they had arrested him all the same, to turn him over to 
the Greek government. They did not even give him the benefit of a 
trial; they simply loaded him on the Anna Maria , a Greek ship that 
plied between Haifa and Piraeus. And at this point all trace of him 



was lost. It seems that George was still in the cabin before the ship 
entered the straits between Aegina and Piraeus. But when the ship 
was approaching port, the cabin was found empty. Did he escape 
by jumping ship? Was he hurled by someone from the ship? His 
body was never to be found. Every so often the sea gave up a 
corpse, the authorities summoned Athena to see if she recognized 
it, and Athena answered, “No, that’s not my son George.” 

At some hour in the evening we interrupted the interview. The 
crowd of visitors had dispersed, and Athena had offered me hospi¬ 
tality for the night. She had also prepared a dinner, set out on the 
best tablecloth, and so we ate: myself, she, Alekos, Stathis, a 
friend. Alekos seemed less tense, less solemn, and soon opened a 
door to his infinite surprises, letting himself go in a facetious con¬ 
versation. He called his cell, for example, “my villa in Boyati,” 
describing it as a very luxurious place, with outdoor and indoor 
swimming pools, golf courses, private cinemas, dazzling salons, a 
chef who sent for fresh caviar from Iran, odalisques who danced and 
polished his handcuffs. In this paradise he had once gone on a 
hunger strike “because the caviar wasn’t fresh and wasn’t gray.” 
And then, in the same tone, he gave examples of his “widely 
known friendships” with Aristotle Onassis, Stavros Niarchos, Nel¬ 
son Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, or described his “personal jets,” 
and the yacht that the day before he had “borrowed from Princess 
Anne of England.” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. Was it possible that in the 
concrete tomb he had been able to salvage his sense of humor, his 
capacity to laugh? Not only possible, but undeniable. “You can’t 
understand Alekos,” Stathis confided to me at one point, “if you 
don’t know his habit of making fun of people. He’s always been like 
that.” However, after dinner when we resumed the interview, 
Alekos returned to being serious and nervously biting his pipe. We 
spoke, this time, until three in the morning, and at three-thirty I 
fell exhausted on the bed they had prepared for me in the living 
room. Over the bed was a photograph of Basil in his colonel’s uni¬ 
form, and the frame was crowded with gold, silver, and bronze 
medals, evidence of the various campaigns he had fought up until 
1950. Beside the bed was a picture of Alekos when he was an engi¬ 
neering student at the Polytechnic University and member of the 
central committee of the Youth Federation of the “Union of Cen- 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


ter” party. An intelligent and witty little face, at that time without 
mustaches, and which was no help to me in fathoming a mystery. 

Then I remembered having seen, in the next room, pictures of 
the three brothers as children. 1 got up and examined them. The 
one of George revealed an elegant and solemn little boy, politely 
seated on red velvet. The one of Stathis revealed a somewhat less 
elegant, less solemn little boy, but likewise seated politely on red 
velvet. The one of Alekos showed a tiger cub with an angry scowl 
who, standing erect on the red velvet, seemed to announce with 
anarchistic independence, “No, and I mean no! 1 won’t sit on that 
thingamajig!” His little knitted outfit hung loosely to show that he 
didn’t give a damn about his outer appearance, and so it was useless 
for his mother to scold him or plead with him; he was going to do 
as he liked all the same. And almost as though to show his rejection 
of advice, orders, and the interference of others, his right hand 
rested proudly and provocatively on his hip; his left was holding up 
his pants at the point where he had lost a button. 

How long did I stay there studying those photographs? This I 
really don’t remember. But I remember that at a certain point my 
attention was attracted by something else: a rectangular object cov¬ 
ered with dust. 1 took it in my hand with the sensation of penetrat¬ 
ing a secret, and discovered it was a seventeenth-century Bible, 
with a document attributing its ownership to Alekos Panagoulis. 
But it was a three-hundred-year-old document, and this Alekos was 
an ancestor who had fought as a guerrilla against the Turks. I was to 
find out later that, from the seventeenth century to 1825, the Pan¬ 
agoulis family had supplied nothing but heroes. Some had been 
named Jorgos, that is George, like the young Jorgos who died in the 
battle of Faliero in 1823. Others had been named Stathis. But most 
of them had been named Alekos. 

Next morning 1 left for Bonn. And it goes without saying that it 
was not a final departure. Seeing me off at the airport, Alekos had 
made me promise to come back, and a few days later, while he was 
in the hospital, 1 returned to discover things that helped a little to 
clear up the secrets of his elusive personality. First of all, the long 
poem that he had dedicated to me. It was entitled “Voyage” and 
told of a ship that had left on an endless voyage, a ship that never 
yielded to the temptation or the need to dock in any port, approach 
any shore, or drop its anchor. The crew protested, at times im- 



plored, but the captain resisted as he would have resisted a storm, 
and continued to follow a light. 

The ship was himself, Alekos. And also the captain was himself, 
also the crew. The voyage was his life. A voyage that would end 
only with his death, since the anchor would never be dropped. 
Neither the anchor of love, nor the anchor of desires, nor the 
anchor of a deserved rest. And no argument, no flattery, no threat 
would be able to induce him to do otherwise. So if you believed in 
that ship, if you cared about that ship, you must not try to hold it 
back, nor to stop it by the mirage of green banks and earthly para¬ 
dises. You should let it go on the mad voyage that had been 
chosen, and that amidst his host of contradictions was the fixed 
point of an absolute consistency. “Even Odysseus at the end rested. 
He reached Ithaca and rested,” I remarked after reading the poem. 
And he answered, “Poor Odysseus/’ Then he handed me another 
poem that began as follows: “When you landed in Ithaca / what 
unhappiness you were to feel, Odysseus / If you had more life 
ahead of you / why arrive so soon?” I think I really became his 
friend that day, listening to him in the hospital. 

Indeed I went other times to Athens, and never mind if each 
time the Greek authorities were less pleased. While not daring to 
deny me an entrance permit, the police filled out forms about me 
that they never filled out for anyone, and during my stay in Athens 
they scrupulously occupied themselves with my person. Hardly a 
difficult thing to do, since I lived in the house in Aristofanos Street, 
where the telephone was tapped and four policemen in uniform, 
heaven knows how many in civilian clothes, kept watch on every 
door, every window, the street itself, twenty-four hours out of the 

Psychologically, it was as though Alekos were still in prison and I 
were there with him. Once he accompanied me to Crete, for five 
days. And for five days we were constantly followed, spied on, 
provoked. At Heraklion, where we had gone to visit Knossos, the 
police cars followed us bumper to bumper. We went into a restau¬ 
rant to eat, and they planted themselves there to wait for us. We 
went into a museum, and they planted themselves there. Then 
often we saw them coming from the opposite direction, because 
they were equipped with radios and had changed shifts. A night¬ 
mare. At the Xania airport I was insulted by an agent in civilian 

Alexandros Panagoulis 


clothes. On the plane that took us back to Athens, we were rel¬ 
egated to the last two seats and kept under surveillance for the 
whole trip. Back in Athens, they wouldn’t even allow us the plea¬ 
sure of a supper in Piraeus without a policeman soon arriving to 
dog our heels. They even harassed us at the funeral of a democratic 
minister who had died of a heart attack, and needless to say, Papa- 
dopoulos never granted the interview that according to the Greek 
embassy in Rome he had been ready to give me. What a pity. It 
would have been amusing to ask Mr. Papadopoulos what he under¬ 
stood by democracy. And also by amnesty. 

It would have been still more amusing to tell him that Alekos, 
wherever he went, was welcomed like a national hero. People 
stopped him in the street, embracing him and even trying to kiss 
his hand. Taxi drivers let him get in even at forbidden points. Car 
drivers stopped traffic to greet him. And not seldom, in bars, they 
didn’t want him to pay the check. In short, everyone was for him 
and with him, and only those who were in the service of the colo¬ 
nels were against him. And I followed this extraordinary phenome¬ 
non, finally understanding a little the difficult creature who was the 
object of it. Understanding better, for example, his disgust and 
unhappiness, his thirst for a peace that would never be achieved 
and that manifested itself through explosions of desperate and de¬ 
spairing rage, heedless audacities, mad telephone calls to Dimitrios 
Ioannides, the strong man of the regime, daring him to arrest him 

Or else following in him the craftiness of Odysseus, the shatter¬ 
ing intuitions of Odysseus, whom he increasingly resembled in 
every sense. And the tears that filled his eyes when he looked at the 
Acropolis, to him the symbol of everything in which he believed. 
And his dark silences. And the outbursts of joy that brought back 
all of a youthfulness regained for a few hours, for a few minutes. 
And the sudden boyish laughter, the unforeseeable jokes immedi¬ 
ately canceled by those about-faces of mood. And the exaggerated, 
indeed puritanical modesty with which he refused women when 
they offered themselves to him with love notes, open invitations, 
cunning stratagems. Besides, neither of his past adventures in love 
nor of his present sentiments did he ever confide anything to any¬ 
body: “A serious man doesn’t do that.” Shy, stubborn, proud, he 
was a thousand persons inside a single person whom you could 



never cease to absolve. What a joy to hear him say, in connection 
with his assassination attempt, “I didn’t want to kill a man. I’m not 
capable of killing a man. I wanted to kill a tyrant.” 

In the meantime, he had asked for a passport. But it was not 
even easy for him to obtain the documents necessary for the 
request. In every office where he applied he found underhand 
Kafkaesque obstacles. At the Glifada municipal office, for instance, 
there was no record of his having been born. Suddenly his name 
was missing from the register. Athena’s name was there, Stathis’ 
name, but not his. He laughed about it, with poorly concealed bit¬ 
terness. “I wasn’t born, you see. I was never born.” But one morn¬ 
ing he came back, jumping with joy. “I was born! I was born!” 
Who can say why they changed their minds. 

A week later, it was a Monday, they gave him the passport— 
valid for a single round-trip journey. And three hours later, we left, 
on an Alitalia flight for Rome. But not even our departure was a 
civilized one. Once past the customs, the police, the baggage ex¬ 
amination, we came down into the waiting room and immediately 
a flock of policemen in civilian clothes surrounded us—a provoca¬ 
tion. Then the flight was called and we reached Gate 2. We pre¬ 
sented our embarkation cards. They pushed us back. “Why?” 
Alekos asked. Silence. “We have regular passports and regular em¬ 
barkation cards. And we’ve completed all the formalities.” Silence. 
All the other passengers had gone through, boarded the bus, got off 
the bus, and boarded the plane. The plane was awaiting only us. 
And we couldn’t even approach the boarding ramp. What was 
worse, we were given no explanation, nor was any given to the 
Alitalia employees who were escorting us like VIPs. 

Ten minutes, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty ... I still 
haven’t understood why, after thirty minutes had gone by, they let 
us go on board. Maybe they had telephoned to the chief of public 
security. Maybe he had informed Papadopoulos and Papadopoulos 
had decided that it wasn’t a good idea, from the international stand¬ 
point as well, to make the mistake of preventing our departure at 
the last minute. But I haven’t understood something else: I haven’t 
understood why, once the doors were closed, the plane was held for 
another forty minutes on the runway. There were no problems with 
the control tower that day. There was only a great embarrassment 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


on board. An embarrassment that vanished, however, once we 
were in the sky. The bluest sky in the world. 

In Italy he was received as a hero, as a symbol. And also in 
France, in Germany, in Sweden, wherever he went in Europe to 
keep his struggle alive, to ask for help against the dictatorship in 
Greece. Only the United States did not receive him at all. They 
steadily refused him a visa. He dreamed of going to Washington to 
thank the senators and congressmen who had helped to save his 
life, to explain to them why he went on fighting for freedom. He 
also wanted to accept the invitation of some universities that 
wanted him to read from his poems. But when he asked for the 
visa, something shameful happened. It happened first in a room of 
the American consulate in Milan. I was there. “Where have you 
been the last five years?” the vice-consul asked. “At Boiati!” Alekos 
answered in surprise. “Where is Boiati?” “Next to Athens! The mil¬ 
itary prison! The one where I was held for five years after the death 
sentence!” So I intervened: “Sir, I thought you had recognized Mr. 
Panagoulis, the hero of the Resistence in Greece who was con¬ 
demned to death and not executed because of the intervention of 
all the democratic governments of the world, including the per¬ 
sonal intervention of Lyndon Johnson.” The vice-consul became 
pale. His eyes filled with terror, he grabbed the passport where he 
had already put the visa, though unsigned, and for almost an hour 
he refused to give it back to its owner. He finally did when I threat¬ 
ened to call the Italian police and have him arrested for robbery. 
But then he stamped an enormous CANCELLED that soiled the 
page like an insult, and this was the beginning of many insults to 
come: The insult of the American ambassador in Rome, Mr. John 
Volpe, who never answered the protests that I wrote him. (Volpe is 
the man who grants visas to any Italian fascist who wants to visit 
America and have his contacts in Washington, including Giorgio 
Almirante, who is on trial for reconstruction of the Fascist party in 
Italy.) The insult of the American general consul in Rome, a 
woman, who wrote Panagoulis a brutal letter to endorse the behav¬ 
ior of the vice-consul and praise it, explaining that no visa could be 
granted to a man who had attempted to take the life of a head of 
state, therefore a man guilty of a breach of such-and-such Immigra¬ 
tion Rules, which meant that Mr. Panagoulis had commited a 



crime of “moral turpitude/' The insult of Henry Kissinger himself, 
who personally denied the visa in spite of the intervention of sena¬ 
tors and congressmen. The insults of all those who, like Henry Kis¬ 
singer and his ambassadors, shake hands with the dictators and con¬ 
sider it “moral turpitude" to fight them. 

Many things have happened since then. In November 1973 re- 
sistence to the dictatorship found its voice in a students' revolt at 
the Polytechnic—only to be silenced by their massacre. As a result, 
Papadopoulos fell, only to be replaced by even more vicious 
tyrants. Under Ioannides' leadership, the new colonels dared to at¬ 
tempt that which even Papadopoulos had studiously avoided: the 
conquest of Cyprus and assassination of Archbishop Makarios. 
Faced with the prospect of war with Turkey, the colonels were 
forced to resign, and democracy was resumed with the return of 
Karamanlis. It was July 1974, and Alekos, who had continued the 
struggle from his exile in Italy, was finally able to return home. He 
had made several clandestine trips while the dictatorship was still in 
power and he chose August 13, the anniversary of his attempted as¬ 
sassination of Papadopoulis, as the day he would officially return 

Three months later, November 17, the anniversary of the day on 
which his death sentence had been handed down, Alekos was 
elected to serve as deputy to the Greek parliament. Together 
with the other sixty members of the Union of Center Party, he 
serves in the opposition. In addition to his political activities, the 
seriousness of his interest in literature was confirmed by the release 
of a new poetry collection, I Write from a Prison in Greece . 
Alekos has entered a new world whose heavier responsibilities have 
broadened and matured him. (Someday, someone will have to tell 
of the noble position he took in Papadopoulos' trial, when he op¬ 
posed the death penalty for the ex-dictator. Alekos argued that such 
a sentence would be just only when the suppression of freedom has 
forced upon the citizen the moral right and duty to act as pros¬ 
ecutor, judge, and executioner. When freedom has been restored, 
killing is reduced to mere personal vengeance.) 

And because of these trips I have made this interview the con¬ 
cluding one in this book. By that I want to demonstrate my choice 
for those who oppose power and fight against it. So here is the in- 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


terview I had with Alexander Panagoulis at the end of August 1973 
when we met for the first time. It should be read keeping in mind 
that it took place only two days after his release and that the man 
has much more to say. Perhaps, and it may be crazy to say it but I 
like to say it all the same, he still has everything to say. 

In what sense, I don't know. In fact, I repeat, it is possible that 
politics is only one aspect of his talent and personality. And I would 
not be surprised if his activities were to undergo a turn at some 
point. True, he carries the stigmata of the tribune and the leader, 
nor does it seem to me that it will be easy for him to free himself of 
them. But his authentic culture is based on literary culture, his au¬ 
thentic vein is the poetic vein, and it is no accident that he likes to 
repeat, “Politics is a duty, poetry is a need." In the mystery that 
surrounds him and will perhaps always surround him in my eyes, 
only one point seems clear to me: he will never find what he is 
seeking. Because what he is seeking does not exist. It is a dream 
called freedom, called justice. And weeping, cursing, suffering, we 
can only pursue it, telling ourselves that when a thing does not 
exist, one invents it. Haven't we done the same with God? Is it not 
perhaps the destiny of men to invent what does not exist and fight 
for a dream? 

ORIANA fallaci: You don't look happy, Alekos. But why? You’re fi¬ 
nally out of that hell and you’re not happy? 

Alexander panagoulis: No, I'm not. I know you won’t believe 
me, I know this will seem absurd and impossible to you, but I 
feel more irritated than happy, more sad than happy. I feel as I 
did last Sunday when I heard those hurrahs coming from the 
cells of the other prisoners, and I didn't know the reason for 
the hurrahs, and thought: It must have to do with an amnesty. 
Papadopoulos is making his proclamation, so he's getting 
ready to put on a show with an amnesty that will impress the 
naive. By now he can afford to be less afraid. Or rather, pre¬ 
tend to be less afraid. It doesn't cost him much to let some of 
us go. I thought “some of us" because I didn't think he'd free 
me too. And when 1 found out on Monday morning, I didn't 
feel any joy. None whatsoever. I said to myself: if he's decided 
it's all right to free me too, it means his plan is more ambi¬ 
tious; it means he's really counting on legalizing the junta 



within the framework of the Constitution and seeking recogni¬ 
tion from his old opponents. Coming in my cell, the prison 
commandant had announced the pardon to me: “Panagoulis, 
you've been pardoned." I said, “What do you mean, par¬ 
doned? I didn't ask anyone for pardon." Then I added, “You'll 
soon realize it's easy to put me in but hard to get me out. 
Before I get to Erythrae, you'll have put me in again." 
Erythrae is a suburb of Athens. 

O.F.: You told him that? 

A.P.: Sure. What else could I say? Should I perhaps have said thank 
you, very kind of you, give my compliments to Mr. Papado- 
poulos? Besides Tuesday was worse. You know, there's a spe¬ 
cial procedure for reading the amnesty decree to the pris¬ 
oner—a kind of ceremony with a platoon presenting arms, the 
others standing at attention, and so forth. So, around noon, 
Prosecutor Nicolodimus arrives for the ceremony, and they 
take me out of my cell and lead me in front of the comman¬ 
dant's quarters, where everybody is standing up, and so forth. I 
see a chair and immediately sit down. Dismay, surprise. “Pan¬ 
agoulis! On your feet!" orders Nicolodimus. “And why?" I an¬ 
swer. “Why do you have to read a piece of paper that you call 
a presidential decree but for me is only the piece of paper of a 
colonel? . . . No, I won't get up. No!" And 1 stay sitting. The 
others on their feet, at attention, and so forth, and me sitting 
down. I wouldn't have given up that chair even if they had 
chopped me to pieces. They had to celebrate the ceremony 
while I sat there with my legs crossed. I never stopped provok¬ 
ing them. When the lieutenant colonel came to get me, about 
two in the afternoon, I provoked him too. “Panagoulis, you're 
free. Take your things." “I don't take anything. Take them 
yourself. I didn't ask to leave." 

O.F.: And he? 

A.P.: Oh, he said the same thing as the others. “Once you're out¬ 
side, you won’t say that. You'll discover the dolce vita and 
change your mind." Then they took my bags and carried them 
to the gate like porters. It was amusing because in one of those 
bags they were carrying like porters I had hidden the last 
poems I’d written and the little saws I used to saw the bars. 
They’re tiny saws, look. But they work. Seventeen times they 

Alexandros Panagoulis 


found these saws on me, and yet I was always able to get more 
of them, and when 1 left Boyati I had about ten. I kept them 
here, see? And the next time . . . I’m always expecting them 
to come back and get me to take me back there. And you want 
me to be happy! 

O.F.: And yet, once you were outside, when you saw the sun and 
your mother, it must have been wonderful. 

A.P.: It wasn’t all that wonderful. It was like going blind. It had 
been so many years since I’d been outside that concrete tomb, 
so many years since I’d seen the sun and open space. I’d 
forgotten what the sun was like, and outside there was a very 
strong sun. When I felt it on me, I had to close my eyes. 
Then I reopened them a little, but only a little, and with my 
eyes half-closed I went forward. And by going forward, I dis¬ 
covered space. I no longer remembered what space was like. 
My cell was a meter and a half by three; I could only take two 
and a half steps in it. At the most three. Rediscovering space 
made me dizzy. I felt myself spinning inside like a merry-go- 
round, and I staggered and almost fell. Besides even now, if I 
walk for more than a hundred meters, I get tired and dis¬ 

No, it hasn’t been wonderful. And I don’t care if you don't 
believe it. Or I do care and never mind. I made a terrible ef¬ 
fort to go forward in all that sun, all that space. Then all of a 
sudden, in all that sun, in all that space, I saw a spot. And the 
spot was a group of people. And from that group of people a 
black figure detached itself. And it came toward me, and little 
by little it became my mother. And behind my mother an¬ 
other figure detached itself. And this one too came toward me. 
And little by little it became Mrs. Mandilaras, the widow of 
Nikoforos Mandilaras, murdered by the colonels. And I em¬ 
braced my mother, I embraced Mrs. Mandilaras, and af¬ 
terward . . . 

O.F.: Afterward you cried. 

A.P. : No! I didn’t cry! Not even my mother cried! We’re people 
who don’t cry. If by chance we cry, we never cry in front of 
others. In these years I’ve cried only twice: when they mur¬ 
dered Georghadjis and when they told me my father was dead. 
But no one saw me cry—I was inside my cell. And then . . . 



then nothing. I went home with my mother and Mrs. Mandi- 
laras and the lawyer. And at home I found a lot of friends. I 
was with my friends until six in the morning, then I went to 
bed in my own bed, and don’t ask me if I felt moved at sleep¬ 
ing in my own bed. Because I didn’t feel moved. 

Oh, I’m not insensitive, you know! I’m not! But I’m hard¬ 
ened. Much hardened, and what else do you expect from a 
man who for five years has been buried alive in a concrete 
tomb, without any contact with the world except with those 
who beat him, insulted him, tortured him, and even tried to 
murder him? True, they didn’t execute me after pronouncing 
that death sentence. But they buried me all the same—alive 
instead of dead. And for that I despise them. It was their right 
to execute me, since I made that assassination attempt, and 
how! But they had no right to bury me alive instead of dead. 
That’s why I feel nothing but rage toward those clowns who 
now allow me to sleep in my bed. 

O.F.: Alekos, don’t say such things. Do you want to go back to 

A.P.: If we were to look at things logically, I should really have been 
taken back before arriving in Erythrae. I’m ready to go back to 
prison at any moment. From this moment on. Since yester¬ 
day, since the day before yesterday, since the moment I was 
blinded by that sun. I’ll tell you something else: if my going 
back to prison would do any good, I’d be happy to go back. 
Because for what reason should they take me back to prison? 
For what I say to others or to you? But isn’t it my right to say 
what I think under a democratic regime, and doesn’t Papado- 
poulos insist that Greece is a democracy? Papadopoulos has 
every interest in keeping me outside and showing the world 
that he cares nothing about what I say. And if he wants to go 
about harming me intelligently, he has to make me fall into 
some trap. But that he’s already tried. 

The day after my release some big kid came here saying he 
was a student, though just from his haircut you could tell right 
away that he belonged to the military police. He told me he 
had killed an American who’d been taken as a hostage to free 
Panagoulis, some time ago, and then asked me for some ma¬ 
chine guns. I yelled and threw him out, and then telephoned 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


immediately to the military' police. I tried to get the chief, one 
of those who had tortured me. He was out, and so I said to the 
receptionist, 'Tell him that if he sends me another one of his 
agents provocateurs , 111 beat the hell out of him/’ My God! 
They weren’t able to break me in prison—just imagine them 
being able to break me now. 

O.F. : Alekos, aren’t you afraid of being killed? 

a. P. : Who knows! Since they want to look like liberals, democrats, 
it wouldn’t even be to their advantage to kill me—for the 
moment. But they might be thinking about it. In March of 
1970, immediately after the murder of Polycarpos Georghadjis, 
the hero of the war of liberation in Cyprus and minister of 
Archbishop Makarios, they tried it. It was about seven in the 
evening and I was in the fifth day of a new hunger strike. All 
of a sudden I heard a whistle and my straw mattress caught 
fire. I threw myself on the floor; I shouted murderers, bastards, 
beasts, open the door. But it was more than an hour before 
they took me out, or rather before they opened the door. An 
hour during which the mattress went on burning and burning 
... I couldn’t see any more, I couldn’t breathe. When the 
prison doctor came, a young second lieutenant, I was in a 

As I found out later, he wanted to take me immediately to 
the hospital, but they didn’t let him, and for two days I stayed 
between life and death in my cell. The doctor made a desper¬ 
ate effort to save me and succeeded in transferring me to the 
hospital. The men of the junta showed themselves to be com¬ 
pletely indifferent. Very' often I fainted and I couldn’t speak 
because my throat hurt and even breathing was painful. After 
forty-eight hours that young second lieutenant got some older 
medical officers to come and see me, and when they saw what 
condition I was in, they were furious. The chief of the medi¬ 
cal officers said it was a crime to keep me in the cell, and 
telephoned to his superiors to protest. If it’s true what I heard 
later, he also called the commander in chief of the armed 
forces, who’s now vice-president of the pseudo democracy, 
Odysseus Anghelis. He told him that their refusal to have me 
transferred to a hospital was a criminal act and that he would 
denounce them. And it was thanks to him that they finally ad- 



mitted me. In the hospital they found ninety-two percent car¬ 
bon dioxide in my blood and they said I wouldn’t have lasted 
more than two hours—even if I’d gone beyond the two hours, 
in any case, I wouldn’t have survived. And . . . But do you 
know why they freed Theodorakis? 

O.F.: Theodorakis? No. 

a.p.: Because I was about to die. That Frenchman was in Athens. 
That Servan-Schreiber. And it seems he’d come to take me 
away. They wouldn’t have handed me over to Servan- 
Schreiber, of course, even if I’d been well. And besides there 
was the fact that I was in a state of coma as a result of their at¬ 
tempt to murder me. So, in anticipation of the scandal that 
would have broken out with my death, they gave him Theo¬ 
dorakis. Amusing, isn’t it? I don’t mean by this that I wasn’t 
happy about the release of Theodorakis. He had suffered so 
much in prison. But . . . the story is still amusing. 

O.F.: Interesting. But how did you come to have proof that they’d 
tried to murder you? 

A.P.: A few days before, they had taken away my mattress to “dust” 
it. That happened very seldom, every three or four months. 
And when they brought it back to the cell, the guard came to 
me. The guard was a friend. He said, “Alekos, did you hide 
anything in your mattress?” “No, nothing. Why?” I answered. 
“Because I saw Corporal Karakaxas poking around inside it as 
though he were looking for something.” I didn’t give any im¬ 
portance to the matter at the time, but still the first thing I 
thought when the mattress caught fire was that they’d put 
phosphorous or plastic or something inside it. And the first 
name that came to mind was Karakaxas. Naturally they ac¬ 
cused me of setting myself on fire. But when 1 reminded them 
that six days before they’d taken my cigarettes and matches, 
they realized they were in trouble. Major Kutras of the mili¬ 
tary police came to me and said, “If you don’t tell anyone 
what happened, you have my word of honor that we’ll release 
you and let you go abroad.” 

Since I refused even to discuss such an offer, after ten days 
they threw me back in the cell, and from that time on even 
my mother’s visits were forbidden. As for my lawyer, I never 
saw him in five years. I never received his letters, he never 

Alexandros Panagoulis 


received mine. And even that’s not all there is to be said about 
their illegal and criminal treatment of me. They were ob¬ 
viously afraid I’d reveal the attempted murder and so all my 
mail ended up on the prison director’s desk. Even the letters I 
wrote to Papadopoulos. I wrote to Papadopoulos as the moral 
leader of the junta, to express to him all my disgust and con¬ 
tempt. They should have had the courage to publish them, 
those letters, or at least to make them public. I sent so many of 
them, to all addresses. And then I wrote to the president of the 
Constitutional Court. I sent him telegrams to let him know 
what they were doing to me and to tell him I was ill. But not 
even he ever received my telegrams and . . . 

O.F.: And how are you now, Alekos? 

a.p.: Less well than I look. My health isn’t good. I always feel 
weak, exhausted. Sometimes I have breakdowns. I had one 
yesterday, another when I was just out of prison. I can’t 
walk—three steps and I have to sit down. And aside from that, 
a lot of things are wrong—in my liver, my lungs, my kidneys. 
They’ve taken me to the clinic and the first results haven’t 
been reassuring—Monday I have to go back. 

All those hunger strikes, for instance, weakened me. You’ll 
say but why also inflict those hunger strikes on yourself? Be¬ 
cause during interrogations a hunger strike is a means of keep¬ 
ing your head. You show them, I mean, that they can’t take 
everything away from you since you have the courage to reject 
everything. I’ll try to explain. If you refuse to eat and you at¬ 
tack them, they get nervous and the fact of being nervous 
doesn’t allow them to apply a systematic form of interrogation. 
During torture, for instance, if the man being tortured keeps 
up a provocatory and aggressive attitude, systematic interroga¬ 
tion is transformed into a personal struggle by the tortured 
man himself. Understand? I mean that with hunger strikes, 
the body is weakened and this won’t allow the interrogation to 
be continued, since it’s useless to interrogate or torture some¬ 
one who loses consciousness. These conditions are realized 
after three or four days without food or water, especially if you 
lose blood because of the wounds inflicted by the tortures. So 
they’re forced to transfer you to the hospital and . . . Oh, 
even my memories of the hospital are painful. They tried to 



feed me with a plastic tube put up my nose. I suffered a lot, 
even when I had the feeling I was gaining time. And 
then . . . 

O.F.: And then? 

A.P.: Then, from the hospital, they took me back to the torture 
room and started torturing me again. Then 1 started a new 
hunger strike, and again I provoked them, again I was con¬ 
temptuous, aggressive. So their system failed again. And again 
they were forced to take me to the hospital, where again they 
tried to feed me through a tube in the nose. Oh, even the be¬ 
havior of some doctors was disgusting. My torturers continued 
the interrogation in the hospital, but in a less consistent way 
since there they couldn't use their methods. I gained time, I 
repeat, and that was important to me. In short, it would have 
been impossible for me to give up hunger strikes. They were 
too indispensable a weapon. 

O.F.: During the interrogations, I understand. . . . But later, 
Alekos, in prison? 

A.P.: Even in prison I had no better way to express my disgust, my 
contempt, and to show them they couldn't break me. Even if I 
was now a convict. By rebelling through hunger strikes, I had 
the feeling of not being alone and I felt I was offering some¬ 
thing for the cause of Greece. I thought if I kept a steady, cou¬ 
rageous attitude, the soldiers and guards and the officers them¬ 
selves would understand that I was there to represent a people 
determined to win. Besides many of the hunger strikes I went 
on in prison were provoked by the way they behaved with me. 
They wouldn't even let me have a newspaper, a book, a pen¬ 
cil, a cigarette. And in order to have a newspaper, a book, a pen¬ 
cil, or to smoke a cigarette, 1 refused to eat. For days on end. I 
went on one strike that lasted forty-seven days, one that lasted 
forty-four, one forty, one thirty-seven, two thirty-two, one 
thirty, five between twenty-five and thirty ... I went on so 
many. And despite this, they never stopped beating me. 
Never. I took so many beatings in that cell. They broke my 
ribs when they beat me with iron rods; they've barely 
healed. . . . 

O.F.: When did they beat you for the last time? 

a.p.: If you're talking about a serious beating, on October 25, 1972, 


Alexandras Panagoulis 

on the thirty-fifth day of a hunger strike. Nicholas Zakarakis, 
the director of the Boyati prison came in, and I was lying on 
the straw mattress. I didn’t have any more strength; I could 
hardly breathe any more. All the same he started insulting me 
and all of a sudden he said that I’d been paid to assassinate 
Papadopoulos and that I’d put the money in Switzerland. 
Then I just couldn’t keep silent. I gathered what little voice I 
had left in my throat and yelled, “Malakasl Dirty malakas!” 
Malakas is a bad word in Greek. Zakarakis reacted with such a 
rain of blows that it still hurts when I think of it. Usually I 
defended myself. But that day I couldn’t lift a finger and . . . 
Also on March 17 they’d beaten me. They’d tied me to the cot 
and beaten me for an hour and a half. When Dr. Zografos 
lifted the sheet and saw my body, he closed his eyes in horror. 
It was a body as black as ink, one bruise from head to foot. 
They’d beaten me especially on the lungs and on the loins, 
and so for two weeks I spat blood and urinated blood. So how 
can you expect me to feel well now? Besides the business of 
urinating blood also comes from something else they did to 
me during the interrogation. 

O.F.: I won’t ask you about it, Alekos. 

a.p.: Why not? Anyway it’s something I also told at the trial and 
which I informed the International Red Cross about. It was 
Babalis, one of my torturers, who did it to me. While I was 
tied naked to that iron bed, he put an iron wire up my 
urethra. A kind of needle. Then while the others were shout¬ 
ing obscenities, he heated the end of the wire that was sticking 
out red-hot with his cigarette lighter. It was awful. You can 
say, “After all, they didn’t use electric shocks on you.” No, 
they don’t know how to do it. But they did that thing to me, 
and when you talk about torture, how do you decide which is 
the worst? To stay handcuffed for ten months, ten months I 
say, day and night, isn’t that perhaps a torture? Ten months, 
day and night. Only beginning in the ninth month did they 
free my wrists, for a few hours. Two or three hours in the 
morning, at the insistence of the prison doctor. My hands 
were swollen, my wrists were bleeding, and in some places 
they had running sores. . . . 

I succeeded in informing my mother, who filed an official 



written accusation with the prosecutor general. And that ac¬ 
cusation is proof, because if my mother had written a false¬ 
hood, wouldn’t they have indicted her? Didn’t they indict 
Mrs. Manganis when she revealed that her husband, Professor 
George Manganis, had been tortured? They put her in prison 
too, that great lady, though she’d told the truth. They could 
afford to because in her case it was difficult to prove the ac¬ 
cusations. But in my case, no. They couldn’t imprison my 
mother—the proofs existed. And were obvious. They were the 
wounds and scars I carried on my whole body. 

If I had to make a list of the tortures . . . Look at these 
three scars on the side of the heart. I got them the day they 
broke my left foot with the phalange. Naturally they always 
used the phalange on me, which consists in beating you on 
the soles of your feet until the pain arrives at your brain and 
you faint. I even stood that fairly well. But that day Babalis 
went all out and broke my left foot. Five minutes later Con¬ 
stantine Papadopoulos came in. You know, Papadopoulos’ 
brother. He put his pistol to my head and shouted, “Now I’m 
going to kill you, I’m going to kill you!” and he started hitting 
me. While he was doing that, Theofiloyannakos hit me over 
the heart with an iron paper knife with a jagged point. “I’ll 
stick it in your heart, I’ll stick it in your heart!” That’s how I 
got these three scars. 

O.F.: And these scars on your wrists? 

A.P.: Oh, these I got when they pretended to open my veins. Noth¬ 
ing serious. They only cut me superficially. Anyway, you 
know, I have scars all over my body. Ever so often I discover 
one and say: Now when did I get that? After three weeks of tor¬ 
ture, I didn’t pay any attention to them any more. I felt my 
blood dripping somewhere, my flesh opening up somewhere 
else, and just thought: Here we go again. They usually began 
their tortures by whipping me with a metal cable. It was Theo¬ 
filoyannakos who whipped me. Or else they hung me from the 
ceiling by my wrists and left me there for hours. It’s hard to 
take because after a while the upper part of the body becomes 
as though paralyzed. I mean, you can’t feel your arms and 
shoulders any more. You can’t breathe, you can’t cry out, you 

Alexandras Panagoulis 355 

can’t rebel in any way and . . . They knew all this, of course, 
and when I reached that point they beat me on the loins. 

Do you know what I could never get used to? Suffocation. 
Theofiloyannakos * did that to me too, holding my nose and 
mouth with both his hands. Oh, that was the worst of all. The 
worst! He held my nose and mouth for one minute, watching 
the clock, and he let me take a breath only when I was turning 
blue. He stopped doing it with his hands when I succeeded in 
biting him. I almost bit off his finger. But then he switched to 
using a blanket and . . . Another thing I couldn’t stand were 
the insults. They never tortured me in silence. Never. They 
shouted, shouted. ... In voices that were no longer voices 
but roars. . . . And then the cigarettes crushed out between 
the testicles. 

Listen, why do you only want to hear about these things 
from me? It’s not right. They didn’t just do it to me. Go to 
Military Hospital 401, if you can, and ask to see Major Mus- 
taklis. With him, during his interrogation, they used the 
alonx. Do you know what the alorxi is? It’s when the torturers 
stand in a circle, then they put you in the middle, and they all 
hit you at once. T hey beat him on the spine and the back of 
his neck. He’s still completely paralyzed. He lies in bed like a 
vegetable and the doctors pronounce him “clinically dead.” 

O.F.: I’d like to ask you something, Alekos. Before all this hap¬ 
pened, could you stand physical pain? 

A.P.: Oh, no! No. The least little toothache bothered me immea¬ 
surably, and I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Just to see 
people suffer made me suffer. I admired people who were able 
to tolerate physical pain and couldn’t see how they did it. Man 
is really an extraordinary creature, a sea of surprises. It’s in¬ 
credible how a man can change, and it’s wonderful how a 
man can show himself to be capable of bearing the un¬ 
bearable. That rhetorical proverb, “The steel is tempered by the 
fire,” is really true, you know. The more they tortured me, the 
harder I got. The more they tortured me, the more I resisted. 
Some say that under torture you call on death as a liberation. 

* The chief of the torturers, now condemned to twenty years in prison. (O.F.) 



It's not true. At least not for me. I'd be lying if I said 1 was 
never afraid, but I'd also be lying if I said I ever wanted to die. 
Dying was the last idea to enter my head. I thought only of 
not giving in, of not talking, and of rebelling. If you only 
knew how many times 1 hit them myself! If I wasn't tied to the 
iron table, I kicked and bit them. It was very useful because 
they got more furious than ever and beat me harder till I 
fainted. I always wanted to faint, because fainting was like rest¬ 
ing. Then they started again, but . . . 

O.F.: Excuse me, Alekos. I'm curious about something. But did 
you know that the whole world was concerned with you and 
was protesting about you? 

a.p.: No. I only realized it the day they came in my cell waving 
newspapers and shouting “Russian tanks have entered 
Czechoslovakia! Now nobody'll have the time or wish to be 
concerned about you!" And then I realized it when they 
showed me to reporters, after my first escape attempt. There 
were so many, from so many countries. And I said to myself, 
“But then they know!" And I felt something like a caress on 
the heart. And it seemed to me I was less alone. Because the 
most awful thing, you know, isn't to suffer. It's to suffer alone. 

O.F.: Go on with your story, Alekos. 

a.p. : I was saying that when they insulted me, “criminal, bastard, 
traitor, fag," other unrepeatable vulgarities, I insulted them 
back. I yelled frightful things. For instance: “I'll fuck your 
daughter!" But coldly, without losing my head, you see what I 
mean? I'm very emotional, but with rage I get cold. One day 
they sent me an officer who was an expert in psychological in¬ 
terrogation. You know, one of the ones who says, “My dear 
boy, it's better that you talk." Seeing he was so polite, I asked 
him for a glass of water. He had it brought to me. But as soon 
as I had the glass in my hand, instead of drinking out of it, I 
broke it. Then with the broken glass, I threw myself on those 
scoundrels. I cut two or three of them before they jumped on 
me and threw me to the floor, on the pieces of glass, and one 
piece almost cut off half my right little finger. I also cut the 
tendons, you see. I can't move this finger any more. It's a dead 
finger. Then you know what that beast Babalis did? He called 
the doctor, and without freeing my wrists, which were tied 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


behind my back, he had him take stitches in my little finger. 
Like that, without an anesthetic. God, how it hurt! That day I 
screamed. I screamed like a madman. 

O.F.: Listen, Alekos, weren’t you ever tempted to talk? 

A.P.: Never! Never! Never! I never said anything. Never. I never 
implicated anyone. Never. Since I had taken all the responsi¬ 
bility myself for the attempt on Papadopoulos’ life, they 
wanted to know who would have taken over the responsibilities 
of the government if the attempt had been successful. But they 
didn’t get a word out of me. One day when I was lying on the 
iron bed and really couldn’t take any more, they brought in a 
Greek named Brindisi. He had talked, and now he was crying. 
Crying, he said, “Enough, Alekos. It’s no use any more. Talk, 
Alekos.” But I answered, “Who’s this Brindisi? The only Brin¬ 
disi I know is an Italian port.” The same day they brought in 
Avramis. Avramis was a member of Greek Resistance, an ex¬ 
police officer, a brave and honest man. I denied that I knew 
him, I denied that he belonged to Greek Resistance. Theo- 
filoyannakos yelled, “You can see he knows you. And he’s al¬ 
ready admitted it. Admit the same thing and well get this 
business over with.” I said, “Listen, Theofiloyannakos. If I 
were to get my hands on you for just one hour, I’d make you 
confess anything. Even that you raped your mother. I don’t 
know this man. You’ve tortured him and now he says what 
you want him to.” And Theofiloyannakos: “Whether you talk 
or not, we’ll say that you’ve talked.” 

Listen, even under the most atrocious tortures I never be¬ 
trayed anyone. Anyone. And this is something even those 
animals respect. The direction of my tortures was entrusted to 
the chief of police, the then Lieutenant Colonel and now 
Brigadier General Ioannides. One night, seeing me spit blood, 
he shook his head and said, “It’s no use. No use insisting. It 
happens once in a hundred thousand times that someone 
doesn’t talk. But this is that case. He’s too tough, this Pan¬ 
agoulis. He won’t talk.” Ioannides has always said, “The only 
group we can be sure we haven’t decimated is Panagoulis’ 
group. This tiger broke his handcuffs.” Well, maybe it’s not 
nice for me to tell you this. Maybe you’ll get the idea I’m a 
fop and write that I’m self-satisfied and stuff like that. But I 


must tell you all the same, because after all it’s a great satisfac¬ 
tion. Isn’t it? 

O.F. : Of course it is. And now I’d like to know something else, 
Alekos. After suffering so much, are you still capable of loving 

A.P.: Of still loving them? Of loving them more, you mean! God 
damn it, how can you ask such a question? You don’t think I 
identify humanity with the brutes in the Greek military police? 
Why, that’s only a handful of men! Doesn’t it mean anything 
to you that in all these years they’re always the same ones? 
Always the same ones! Listen, bad people are a minority. And 
for every bad man, there are a thousand, ten thousand good 
ones—namely their victims. The ones you have to fight for. 

You can’t, you shouldn’t, see things so black! I’ve met so 
many good people in these five years! Even among the cops. 
Yes, yes. But just think of the soldiers who risked their lives to 
smuggle my letters, my poems, out of prison! Think of all 
those who helped me when I tried to escape! Think of the doc¬ 
tors who had me taken to the hospital, and when I was in the 
hospital ordered the guards not to keep me tied to the bed by 
my ankles. “I can’t do that,” the guards said. And the doctors: 
'This isn’t a prison! It’s a hospital J” What about that fellow 
Panayotidis who participated in the tortures and always spat on 
me? One day he came up to me all embarrassed and said, 
"Alekos, I’m sorry. I did what they ordered me to do. I would 
have done it even if they’d told me to do it to my father. I 
haven’t the courage to rebel. Forgive me, Alekos.” Oh, 
man . . . 

O.F.: Do you mean man is fundamentally good, man is born good? 

a.P. : No. I mean that man is born to be good, and is more often 
good than bad. And listen, to accept men, all I have to do is 
think of something that happened when I was in the hospital 
after they tried to kill me by setting fire to my mattress. There 
was an old cleaning woman in that ward. You know, one of 
those old women who mop floors and clean toilets. One day 
she came by and stroked my forehead and said, "Poor Alekos! 
You’re always alone! You never speak to anyone. I’ll come 
back tonight and sit beside you, and you can tell me about 
things, all right?” Then she went toward the door and there 
she was grabbed by the guards, who took her away. She didn’t 


Alexandras Panagoulis 

come back that night. I waited for her but she didn’t come 
back. I never saw her again. 1 never found out what happened 
to her and . . . 

O.F.: Are you crying, Alekos? You?! 

A.P.: I’m not crying. I don’t cry. I’m moved. Kindness moves me. 
Goodness moves me. And so I’m moved. Understand? 

O.F.: I understand. Are you religious, Alekos? 

A.P.: Am I? No. I mean, I don’t believe in God. If you talk to me 
about God, I can only say that I agree with Einstein: 1 believe 
in Spinoza’s God. Call it pantheism, call it what you will. 
And if you talk to me about Jesus Christ, I can say that’s all 
right with me, because I don’t consider him the son of God 
but the son of man. The sole fact that his life was inspired by 
the wish to alleviate human suffering, the sole fact that he suf¬ 
fered and died for men and not for the glory of God, is enough 
to make me consider him great. The greatest of all the gods in¬ 
vented by man. You see, man can’t leave the idea of love out 
of consideration because he can’t live without love. I’ve re¬ 
ceived so much hate in my life but I’ve also received so much 
love. As a child, for instance. I was a happy child because I 
grew up in a family where we all loved each other. But it 
wasn’t just a question of family. It was a question of . . . how 
should I say? Of discoveries. 

For instance, during the Italian occupation we took refuge 
on the island of Leukas where there were a lot of Italian sol¬ 
diers. They always called me “little one, piccolo , piccolo , pic- 
color and then gave me presents. A chocolate, a biscuit. My 
father, an army officer, didn’t want me to accept those 
presents and insisted I throw them away. But my mother said, 
“Pick them up and say thanks.” My mother knew they weren’t 
doing it to insult me but to be kind. She knew they weren’t 
bad soldiers but good men. Pve been less happy since growing 
up. It’s hard to feel completely happy when you realize that 
others don’t always care about the things you care about. And 
when I saw the indifference of my contemporaries for the 
problems of life, I . . . well, I wasn’t able to be happy any 
more. Like today. 

O.F.: It’s curious, Alekos. You talk like a man who can’t even con¬ 
ceive the idea of try ing to kill someone. 

a.P. : Before April 21, that is before the coming of the colonels, I 



couldn't even conceive the idea of killing. I wouldn't have 
been able to harm my worst enemy. Anyway, even today, the 
idea of killing is repugnant to me. I’m not a fanatic. I’d like for 
everything here in Greece to change without spilling a single 
drop of blood. I don’t believe in justice applied in a personal 
way. Still less do I believe in the word revenge. Even for those 
who’ve tortured me, I don’t conceive the word revenge. I use 
the word punishment and imagine only a trial. For me it 
would be enough to see them sentenced to one day of prison 
in the cell where I spent five years. I care too much about law, 
rights, duty. In fact, I’ve never challenged Papadopoulos’ right 
to have me tried and sentenced. What I always protested was 
the way they carried out the sentence, the beatings they gave 
me, the cruelties they inflicted on me, the concrete tomb 
where they kept me without even allowing me to read and 
write. But when someone does what I did, the attempted assas¬ 
sination I mean, he doesn’t go against the law. Because he’s 
acting in a lawless country. And the answer to lawlessness is 
lawlessness. See what I mean? 

Look, if you’re walking in the street and not bothering any¬ 
one, and I come up and start slapping you, and you can't even 
report me because the law doesn’t protect you, what are you to 
think? What are you to do? Mind you, I was talking about 
slaps, nothing more. A slap doesn’t even hurt, it’s only an in¬ 
sult. But there should be a law that forbids me to slap you! A 
law that forbids me even to give you a kiss if you don’t want it! 
And if this law doesn’t exist, what do you do? Don’t you have 
the right to react and maybe even kill me so that I won’t 
bother you any more? To take justice into your own hands 
becomes a necessity! Or rather a duty! Yes or no? 

O.F.: Yes. 

A.P.: I'm not afraid to say it: I know what hatred is too. I love love 
so much, and I’m full of hatred for anyone who kills freedom, 
those who killed it in Greece, for instance. God damn it, it’s 
hard to say these things without sounding rhetorical, but . . . 
There’s a sentence that turns up often in Greek literature: 
“Happy to be free and free to be happy.” So when a tyrant dies 
a natural death in his bed, I ... I can't help it, I’m overcome 
with rage. Overcome with hatred. In my opinion, it's an 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


honor for the Italians that Mussolini came to the end he did, 
and it’s shameful for the Portuguese that Salazar died in his 
bed. Just as it'll be shameful for the Spaniards when Franco 
dies of old age. 

God damn it! You can’t let a whole nation be transformed 
into a herd of sheep. And listen, I’m not dreaming of utopia. I 
know very well that absolute justice doesn’t exist, that it’ll 
never exist. But I know there are countries where a process of 
justice gets applied. So what I’m dreaming of is a country 
where those who get attacked, insulted, deprived of their 
rights, can demand justice in a court. Is that too much to ask? 
Bah! It seems to me the least a man can ask. That’s why I get 
so angry with the cowards who don’t rebel when their fun¬ 
damental rights are violated. I wrote on the walls of my cell: “I 
hate tyrants and cowards disgust me.” 

O.F.: Alekos . . . this is a difficult question. What did you feel 
when they sentenced you to death? 

A.P.: At that moment, nothing. I was expecting it, I was prepared 
for it, and so I didn’t feel anything except an awareness that by 
dying I’d be contributing to a struggle that would be carried on 
by others. 

O.F.: And were you sure they would shoot you? 

A.P.: Yes. Absolutely sure. 

O.F.: Alekos . . . this question is still more difficult. And I don’t 
know if you’ll want to answer. What does a man think when 
he’s about to be shot? 

A.P.: I’ve wondered myself. Many times. And I tried to say it in a 
poem I wrote in my head the morning when they came to find 
out if I was asking for pardon and I answered no. . . . It’s a 
poem that gives a pretty good idea of what I was thinking at 
that moment. It goes like this: “As / the branches of the trees 
hear / the first blows of the ax / so / that morning / the or¬ 
ders / reached my ears / At the same moment / old memo¬ 
ries / that I thought dead / flooded my mind / like sobs / rend¬ 
ing sobs of the past / for a tomorrow that wouldn’t arrive / The 
will / that morning / was only a wish / Hope? / it too was 
lost / but not for a moment was I sorry / that the platoon 
was waiting.” And look, as far as I know, there are three writ¬ 
ers who’ve explained it in a way similar to what I felt. One 



is Dostoevsky in The Idiot. Another is Camus in The Stranger. 
The third is Kazantzakis in the book where he tells of the 
death of Christ. What Dostoevsky says, I knew —Yd read The 
Idiot. But I hadn't read The Stranger , and when I did, much 
later in Boyati, it disturbed me to discover that Yd thought the 
same things while I was waiting for the hour of execution. I 
mean, all the things you'd like to do if they weren't about to 
cut off your head. To write a poem, for example, or a letter. 
To read a book, to create a little life for yourself in that little 
cell. A life just as wonderful because it's life. . . . But I was 
especially disturbed to read the version that Kazantzakis gives 
on the death of Christ. There's a moment in that book when 
Christ closes his eyes, on the cross, and sleeps. And dreams a 
dream that's a dream of life. He dreams that . . . But I don't 
want to talk about it. It’s not good to talk about it. 

O.F.: It doesn’t matter, since I've understood anyway that you were 
dreaming of making love to a woman. In Kazantzakis’ book, 
Christ dreams he's making love to Martha and Mary, the sis¬ 
ters of Lazarus. Yes . . . ten minutes of sleep to dream of life. 

. . . It's right like that, it's beautiful like that. But how did 
you spend the rest of that night? 

a.p.: The cell was a bare cell, without even a cot. They’d put a 
blanket on the floor for me, that's all. 1 was handcuffed. 
Always handcuffed. So for a little while I lay there handcuffed 
on the floor, then I got up and started talking to the guards. 
My guards were three noncommissioned officers. Young, 
about twenty-one. They looked like nice guys and they weren't 
hostile; in fact they looked as though they were sad about 
me—depressed at the thought that in a little while I'd be shot. 
To cheer them up, I started talking about politics. I spoke to 
them as I would have spoken to students during a demon¬ 
stration. I explained to them that they shouldn't remain pas¬ 
sive, they should fight for freedom. And they listened to me 
with respect. I even recited a poem I’d written: “The Three 
Deaths." You know, the one that Theodorakis has set to 
music. While I was reciting, they wrote the verses on their cig¬ 
arette packages. 

Then those three were relieved by three others, also con¬ 
scripts, and among them was one who sang in the choir of a 

Alexandras Panagoulis 363 

church. I let myself play a cruel joke. I asked him to sing me 
what he sang for the funeral Mass. He sang it to me. And still 
joking, I told him, “Some of those words I don’t like. And 
when you sing for me, at my funeral Mass, you mustn’t say 
them. For example, you mustn’t call me servant of the Lord. 
No man is anybody’s servant. No man should be anybody’s 
servant. Not even of the Lord.” And he promised that for me 
he wouldn’t sing those words, he wouldn’t call me servant of 
the Lord. So we stopped that cruel game and went on to sing 
some other songs by Theodorakis. 

O.F.: Alekos . . . what does a man feel when they tell him that 
they’re not going to shoot him after all? 

a.p.: They never told me the death sentence was suspended. For 
three years they never told me. And in Greece a death sen¬ 
tence is valid for three years. At any moment, during those 
three long years, they could have opened the door of my cell 
and said, “Let’s go, Panagoulis. The firing squad is waiting for 
you.” The first morning, I was expecting to be shot at five, five- 
thirty. Even the grave was ready. When I saw that five-thirty 
had gone by, and six, six-thirty, seven, I began to suspect there 
was something new. But I didn’t think the execution had been 
suspended—I thought it had been delayed for a few hours. 
Maybe the helicopter had been held up, maybe the prosecutor 
had had to take care of some red tape. . . . Then, around 
eight, a squad came to the door of my cell. And I said to 
myself: Here we go. But someone gave an order and the squad 
disbanded. Right after that they told me they wouldn’t shoot 
me that morning because it was the Feast of the Presentation 
of the Virgin, so there wouldn’t be any executions. They’d 
shoot me next day, November 22. 

I started waiting for dawn again, and the second night was 
like the first, and at dawn I was ready again. An officer came 
and said, “Sign the request for pardon and you won’t be shot.” 
1 refused, and just as I was refusing, I heard another officer 
giving a curt order to the soldiers outside. And I thought: Here 
we go. Here we really go this time. Instead nothing happened, 
and in the afternoon they took me away from the Aegina 
prison. They took me to the military port and there, with Pa¬ 
trol Boat P-21, they took me to the office of the military 



police. The place where I'd been interrogated. Here there was 
an officer and he said to me, “Panagoulis, the newspapers 
have already reported your execution. Now we'll be able to in¬ 
terrogate you as we please. We'll make you tell anything we 
like, and you'll die under torture. And nobody will know it 
because everyone thinks you've been executed." It was only a 
malicious threat, however—they didn't torture me that day. At 
dawn on November 23, they put me in a car and said, “Pan- 
agoulis, no more fooling around. We're taking you to be ex¬ 
ecuted." Instead they took me to Boyati. 

O.F.: Alekos, I wonder how you've managed to keep a clear mind 
after having been five years alone and buried inside a concrete 
box not much wider than a bed. How did you do it? 

a.p. : Simply by rejecting any idea of having been defeated. Besides 
I never felt defeated. That's the reason I never stopped fight¬ 
ing. Every day was a new battle. Because I wanted every day to 
be a new battle. I never allowed myself to fall into inertia. I 
thought of my oppressed people and my rage was transformed 
into energy. It was just this energy that always helped me to 
think up new ways to escape. I didn't want to escape for the 
sake of escaping, I mean so as not to be in prison. I wanted to 
escape to continue my struggle, to be with my comrades 
again. I had come into the struggle determined to give my all, 
and my desperation came from my certainty that I'd given too 
little, that I'd done too little. 

When Greece had been overwhelmed by the dictatorship, 
I'd said to my friends, "My only ambition is to give my life to 
put an end to this dictatorship, my only wish is to be the last 
one to die in this battle. Not so as to live more than others but 
to give more than others." And today, in all sincerity, I can 
say the same thing to my friends and I don’t care if our ene¬ 
mies know it. On the contrary. I certainly don't delude myself 
that I'll be alive the day when victory will be celebrated, but I 
believe with all my heart that that day will be celebrated. For 
that to happen, however, I must go on fighting. And this idea, 
together with the idea of escaping, helped me not to go crazy 
in those five years. 

O.F.: But how did you plan to escape from that tomb? 

A.P.: In the most incredible ways. First of all, I thought of a way to 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


send messages to my comrades. . . . Even knowing there was 
little possibility of my succeeding in escaping, the idea never 
left me. Never. My principle was the same as today: better to 
fail than to lull yourself into inertia. Now I'll tell you about 
two attempts that failed but that to me seem amusing. One 
night the guards open the door of my cell, at the same time as 
always, and they don't find me inside. As I’d foreseen, those 
idiots get panicky and start shouting, panting, mutually accus¬ 
ing each other, looking for me on the walls, on the ceiling, 
and not thinking of looking for me in the only place where I 
could have been hiding: under the cot. I was under the cot, 
and it was fun to listen to them. “You're the one who came in 
the cell this morning!" And the other: “You're the one who 
had the keys!" “Well, let's not fight about it! Let's try and find 
him!" And away they go, out of the cell, to give the alarm— 
leaving the door open. 

So I rushed out of the cell and ran in the dark, for some 
fifty meters. I stopped against a tree. From this tree I reached 
another tree, then the shadows of the kitchen, and then the 
prison wall. People were yelling all over the yard: “Alarm, 
alarm." I yelled too: “Alarm canceled. Canceled!" I hoped 
someone would hear it and believe it. Now all I had to do was 
get over the wall. I was just about to when a soldier saw me 
and grabbed me. 

O.F.: How did you feel when they grabbed you? 

a.p.: I certainly wasn't happy about it. But I didn’t get angry; I just 
thought: It doesn't matter. Next time it will go better. The 
next time was with a pistol made of soap. I’d made it myself, 
using soap and pieces of bread, and then I'd painted it black 
with the tips of burned matches. You know, one match at a 
time, as though it were a brush. The barrel I’d made with the 
tinfoil from cigarette packages and it looked just like a metal 
barrel. One night they came in my cell as usual to bring me 
my food and ... I pointed my pistol at them. There were 
three of them. They got so scared that the one holding the tray 
let it drop. The other two looked paralyzed. And the whole 
business was so funny that I couldn’t keep it up—the impulse 
to laugh was too strong. You won’t believe it, but if I hadn't 
given in to the desire to laugh, maybe I would have succeeded 



in escaping. But I had the consolation of having had a little 
fun. And that’s something. 

O.F.: But how many times did you try to escape, Alekos? 

A.P.: Many times. Once, for example, by digging through the wall 
of my cell with a spoon. It was October 1969, and at that time 
I’d succeeded in getting them to put a toilet in the cell. And 
then, by a hunger strike, I even got them to let me put a cur¬ 
tain in front of the toilet. I chose that place to make the 
hole—the curtain acted as a screen. 1 worked on it for at least 
two weeks, and on October 18 the hole was ready. So I tried to 
slip through it but I couldn’t get all the way through because I 
had too many clothes on. 1 had to take them off, throw them 
out through the hole, and then slip through the hole again. 
That spoiled everything. A guard went by, saw the clothes, 
and gave the alarm. They immediately pounced on me. Right 
away the interrogation began. They didn’t want to believe that 
I’d dug through the wall with nothing but a spoon. They tor¬ 
tured me to find out how I’d done it. Oh, you can’t imagine 
how they tortured me! 

After the tortures they took me back to my cell and even re¬ 
moved my cot. I went back to sleeping on the ground, hand¬ 
cuffed, and with nothing but a blanket. Two days later Theo- 
filoyannakos reappeared. “How did you do it?” “You know, 
with a spoon.” “That’s impossible, it’s not true!” “And what 
do I care if you believe it or not, Theofiloyannakos?” And that 
was the beginning of more kicking and beating. Then, two 
weeks later, there even came a general: Phaidon Gizikis. All 
nice and polite. “You can’t complain, Alekos, if they keep you 
handcuffed. After all you dug a hole in the wall with a spoon!” 
And I: “You’re not really going to believe those imbeciles? 
You’re not really going to take the story about the spoon 
seriously? After all, a wall isn’t a custard pudding!” That hurt 
his feelings. And for having teased him like that, I had to go 
back on a hunger strike. They didn’t want to give me back my 
cot, or take off the handcuffs. But they took them off, finally, 
and gave me back the cot after forty-seven days of living on 
nothing but a few drops of coffee. I even wrote a poem about 

O.F.: Which one? 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


a.p. : The one called “I Want/' “I want to pray / with the same 
strength with which I want to curse / I want to punish / with 
the same strength with which I want to pardon / I want to 
give / with the same strength with which I wanted to in the 
beginning / I want to overcome / since I cannot be over¬ 

But now I’ll tell you about another attempt. The one I 
made at the end of February 1970. In January they had trans¬ 
ferred me to the military police training center in Goudi and 
one of the guards was a friend of mine. Right away I started 
planning another escape. My cell had two locks. I asked my 
friend to go to the market and buy as many locks as he could, 
similar to those two. Along with the locks, the keys. He 
brought me back about a hundred of them. One by one we 
tried them, and one was the one we were looking for. But it 
opened only one lock, of course. So we had to find the second 
one too. I told him to go back to the market and buy other 
locks. He did, and two days later, February 16, he was my 
guard—from eight to eleven in the morning, from ten to mid¬ 
night at night. We spent the morning trying the new locks, 
and so we found the key that opened the second lock. 

I was mad with joy—I would get away that night. Or rather, 
we would get away. He certainly couldn’t stay there after my 
escape. Everything was ready. It seemed impossible to fail. 
And instead . . . Instead two hours later, about eleven in the 
morning, they came to get me and took me back to Boyati. 
Where they had built me a special cell. In reinforced con¬ 
crete. I now understood that the transfer to Goudi had been 
only so as to build me a new cell. A secure cell, in reinforced 

O.F.: The cell you were in until the other day? 

a.p.: Yes. And they locked me in it. The first time I tried to escape 
from this new cell was June 2, 1971. Then they transferred me 
again to the military' police center, but there too I tried to es¬ 
cape—on August 30. That was the escape that got the most 
publicity, since Lady Fleming was involved in it, and af¬ 
terward there was that trial. You see, the secret is not to resign 
yourself, never to feel yourself a victim, never to behave like a 
victim. I’ve never played the victim—not even when I was 

3 68 


wasting away with hunger strikes. I always thought up new 
ideas for escaping, and I always appeared to be in a good mood 
or aggressive. Even when I was dying of sorrow. Sorrow. . . . 
Solitude. ... I also told about that in the book of poems that 
won the Viareggio Prize. Look, solitude can be overcome by 
imagination. How many lives I’ve given birth to in my mind 
trying to overcome solitude. And how intensely I lived each 
life through my imagination. 

O.F.: But once, Alekos, you did succeed in escaping. 

A.P.: Yes, with George Morakis, who all because of me has been 
sentenced to sixteen years in prison and can’t even benefit 
from this amnesty since they consider him a deserter. He was 
a young noncommissioned officer, George Morakis, and he 
spontaneously offered me his help. Oh, my escape with 
Morakis was so amusing. I was dressed like a corporal and was 
carrying in my hand a bunch of keys for all the cells. When 
we got to the last door, 1 threw the keys to the little soldier on 
guard and said, “Open the door, goldbrick.” The soldier didn’t 
recognize me. He snapped to attention, opened the door for 
us, and I even told him not to make a lot of noise asking who- 
goes-there in case we came back. You understand, there was 
always the possibility of not being able to make it and of hav¬ 
ing to sneak back in if we didn't succeed in getting over the 

The last door let us out on the actual military field—to get 
out of there all we had to do was climb the wall. Even though 
the wall was very high and surmounted by barbed wire. I bent 
over, Morakis got on my shoulders and got up the wall. Then 
he reached down, I grabbed his arms, and away we went. Out 
for a stroll through the streets of Athens. Too bad they caught 
us, four days later. They arrested me in the house of a traitor, 
Takis Patitsas. He had had connections with Greek Resistance, 
this Patitsas, since 1967. He worked in a travel agency and had 
supplied us with a certain number of stolen passports. They 
had wanted to know about him too when they tortured me 
during the interrogation, and naturally I hadn’t talked. In fact, 
Patitsas was never arrested. 

After my escape I went to his house full of trust. I only 
meant to stay there a few days. Just long enough to get infor- 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


mation and make contact with my comrades in my Greek 
Resistance group. He received me with hugs and kisses, but 
the next day he left the house where I was his guest and only 
reappeared after forty-eight hours. We talked, we ate together, 
and next morning he left, saying he was going to work. Instead 
he didn’t go to work. He went to the police station and handed 
over the keys. That’s how they caught us, by opening the door 
with Patitsas’ keys. As a reward he got five hundred drachmas. 
About seventeen dollars. Let’s talk about something else, if 
you don’t mind. 

O.F.: Yes, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about Papado- 

a.p.: Listen, I can’t take this Papadopoulos seriously. He’s a type 
you can’t understand unless you examine his history. A history 
that shows right away how dishonest, mentally sick, and what 
a liar he is. For six years he’s told nothing but lies, and how 
many times, to vomit out my disgust, I wrote to tell him so! 
You know, those letters that I gave to the prison director. In 
each one I called him comical, a ridiculous clown, a buffoon, 
a criminal, and mentally sick. And don’t think that I was exag¬ 
gerating or carried away by anger. All these things are abun¬ 
dantly clear from his biography. 

He was the captain who participated in the 1951 coup 
d'etat , which failed however, with the brigantines Cristeas and 
Tabularis. And he who, as lieutenant colonel, was secretary of 
the commission that drew up the famous Pericles Plan by 
which they tried to falsify the results of the 1961 elections. 
When the democratic government ordered an investigation of 
the Pericles Plan, that idiot replies that he didn’t know Greek 
syntax and so couldn’t have been the one responsible. You’ll 
find this information in official documents, published besides 
in all Greek newspapers at the time. 

It’s he who at the beginning of 1963 carried out a sabotage 
of his own department and then personally tortured some of 
his soldiers to get them to confess that it was communist sabo¬ 
tage. He was head of the Office of Propaganda and Psycho¬ 
logical Warfare, and everyone knows he was the one who or¬ 
dered the murder of Polycarpos Georghadjis. Everyone knows 
he was the one behind that incident where they tried to 



murder me in prison. That he's a ridiculous man anyway, you 
can also judge from the fact that he's extended the amnesty to 
the torturers. Isn't that an admission that torture existed? And 
isn't it tantamount to encouraging more torture? 

O.F.: Yes, but it doesn't keep him from being in power and staying 

A.P.: Listen, if you’re saying that all this doesn't exclude his capac¬ 
ity to stay in power, let me make an observation. When I was 
in Rome I saw a film with Mussolini speaking to the crowd 
from the Palazzo Venezia. I was astonished and wondered 
how the Italians had managed to put up for so many years 
with such a ridiculous man who spoke in such a ridiculous 
way. And yet Mussolini was a powerful dictator and in his way 
capable. Does stealing power and keeping it keep anyone from 
being ridiculous? The difference between Papadopoulos and 
Mussolini is that, for better or worse, Mussolini had popular 
support. Papadopoulos doesn't even have that. His power is 
based on the junta and nothing else, namely on ten officers 
who control the entire army. He's the little leader of a little 

Moreover he acts in bad faith. He doesn't present himself 
like Franco, who says, “I am the master. Period.” He presents 
himself by talking about revolution and then even about de¬ 
mocracy. Democracy! What the hell kind of democracy is a 
democracy where one goes up for election alone, without even 
having the decency to invent an opponent or an opposition? 
You can say: But you're out of prison because of Papadopou¬ 
los' amnesty. But don't you understand that it's a trick, a 
mockery? Don't you understand that behind this action of his 
there's a hidden stratagem to extend the tyranny? 

O.F.: What do you think of Constantine, Alekos? 

A.P.: I've always been a republican, of course, and I'm certainly not 
the one to feel sorry about Constantine. Besides, Constantine 
created the conditions for having himself thrown out of the 
country when he forced Papandreou to resign, in July 1965. 
But I don't care to emphasize whether I like Constantine or 
not. I'm only interested to see if Constantine can be useful in 
the struggle against the junta. Perhaps he can. Because Con¬ 
stantine may still have some influence in certain sections of 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


the army, especially among the officers. Perhaps, the situation 
being what it is, we can’t ignore him. And we can’t deal with 
the problem of him, at the moment. By now he’s an enemy of 
the junta. And by now he has no other choice but to remain 
an enemy of the junta. 

O.F.: Alekos, but you don’t suppose that Papadopoulos let you all out 
so as to overthrow him? 

A.P.: Of course not. But he doesn’t think that he’s capable of being 
overthrown. And that’s his mistake because the resistance in 
Greece is a reality. People are joining in it, albeit in a passive 
way for now. They’re joining in, for instance, by refusing the 
dictatorship unanimity. The task assumed by the whole Greek 
political world is that of following the popular will. And that 
task shows up by not helping Papadopoulos to legalize his 
regime. I’m sure no respectable politician in Greece will par¬ 
ticipate in the farce of the elections. You must understand that 
we can overthrow him. Papadopoulos didn’t come out of a 
civil war like Franco—he came out of a coup d’etat. When 
Franco came to power, his opponents were decimated. De¬ 
feated. The last democrats left Spain like El Campesino. 

Here it’s different. Here no one has been defeated. No one 
has been decimated. And all it will take for the dictatorship to 
end is for the Greek people not to go to sleep as the Italian 
people did. The people always tend to sleep, to resign them¬ 
selves, to accept. But it doesn’t take much to awaken them. 
Who knows! Maybe I lack realism, information, and even 
logic. But if you’re going to talk about logic, I say when has 
logic ever made history? If logic were to make history, the 
Italians wouldn’t have let themselves be seduced by Mussolini, 
and Hitler wouldn’t have existed, and Papadopoulos wouldn’t 
have come to power. He controlled only a few units in all of 
Attica, and some units in Macedonia. And when you talk 
about politics . . . 

O.F.: But what is your political ideology, Alekos? 

A.P.: I’m not a communist, if that’s what you want to know. I never 
could be, since I reject dogmas. Wherever there’s dogma, 
there’s no freedom, and so dogmas aren’t for me. Whether 
religious dogmas or sociopolitical ones. Having said that, it’s 
hard for me to make a distinction and say that I belong to this 



or that other ideology. I can only tell you I'm a socialist—in 
our times it's normal, I'd say inevitable, to be a socialist. But 
when I talk about socialism, I'm talking about a socialism 
applied in a regime of total freedom. Social justice can't exist 
if freedom doesn't exist. For me, the two concepts are con¬ 

And this is the kind of politics I'd like to participate in, if 
Greece only had democracy. This is the kind of politics that's 
always attracted me. Oh, if I belonged to a democratic coun¬ 
try, I really think I'd go into politics. Because what I'm doing 
now and what I’ve done so far isn't politics—it’s only a flirta¬ 
tion with politics. And I like to flirt, yes, but I like love much 
better. In democracy to be in politics becomes as beautiful as 
to be in love with love. And that's my trouble. You see, there 
are men who are capable of politics only in time of war, that is 
in dramatic circumstances, and there are others capable of 
politics only in time of peace, that is in normal circumstances. 
Paradoxically, I belong to the latter. All things considered, be¬ 
tween Garibaldi and Cavour I prefer Cavour. But you must 
understand that ever since the moment the junta took power, 
neither I nor my comrades have been making politics. Nor 
will we until the moment when the junta is overthrown. We 
mustn't, we can't, unless we have an operating force. And this 
operating force is the resistance, namely the struggle. 

O.F.: Alekos, you say that paradoxically you belong to the Ca- 
vourians. Truly paradoxically, since as a political figure you 
became famous through a rather Garibaldian assassination at¬ 
tempt. Alekos, do you ever curse the day you made that at¬ 

a.p.: Never. And for the same reason for which I never feel any 
repentance. Look, it would have been enough for me to say at 
the trial that I repented, and they wouldn’t have condemned 
me to death. Instead I didn’t say it, just as I don't say it now, 
because I've never changed my mind. And I don't even think 
I'll change it in the future. Papadopoulos is guilty of high 
treason and of many other crimes that in my country are 
punished with the death penalty. I didn't act like a mad fanatic 
and I’m not a mad fanatic. Both I and my comrades acted as 
instruments of justice. When tyranny is imposed on a people, 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


the duty of every citizen is to kill the tyrant. There’s no need 
to repent and our struggle will go on until justice and freedom 
are re-established in Greece. I, or rather we, have set out on a 
road on which there’s no turning back. 

O.F.: I know. Tell me about the attempt, Alekos. 

A.P.: It was a well-prepared attempt, down to the last details. I had 
thought of everything. I would have to open the electrical 
switch of the two mines from a distance of about two hundred 
meters. The two mines were well placed. I had made them 
myself. They were two good mines. Each one contained five 
kilos of TNT and a kilo and a half of another explosive mate¬ 
rial, C-3. I had placed them at a depth of one meter to the two 
sides of the little bridge that Papadopoulos’ car would have to 
cross going along the coastal road from Sounion to Athens. 
The explosion was to expand in an arc of forty-five degrees and 
open a circular chasm about two meters in diameter. A single 
explosion would have been enough, the explosion of a single 
mine to hit the target, provided the car went by at the right 

But it was the fault of the comrade who had put it in the 
trunk of the car that the fuse turned out to be so tangled and 
knotted that all I could salvage of it was some forty meters. 
The fact is it wasn’t possible to open the switch at that dis¬ 
tance, because I wouldn’t have had any place to hide myself. 
The only place w'here 1 could have hidden was between eight 
and ten meters from the bridge. 1 had to try just the same. I 
could see right away the drawbacks and dangers of such a posi¬ 
tion. The most serious w r as that 1 couldn’t see the highway 
very well. I had made many trials, before the attempt, and had 
chosen the position at two hundred meters because I’d noted 
that when the car w^as between me and the bridge, 1 saw it half 
hidden by a billboard. At that moment I w'ould have opened 
the switch. Instead from the new position I didn’t have a good 
view of the highway, so I couldn’t perceive the car at the 
moment when I should have to light the fuse. The other draw'- 
back of this position was that from there it would be almost 
impossible to get away. Along the highway, every fifty' or a 
hundred meters, there was a patrolman. And farther on, sev¬ 
eral police cars. Besides one not more than ten meters away. 



O.F.: So you would have had to jump in the sea from there? 

A.P.: Exactly. And a fast motorboat was waiting for me, hidden 
some three hundred meters away. I could see right away that 
to escape wasn’t just almost impossible but impossible. I de¬ 
cided to go through with it all the same. I lit the fuse and 
jumped right in the water. I swam under water for twenty or 
thirty meters. Then I came up for air. I realized immediately 
that they hadn’t seen me jump in the sea. Cops were running 
from all sides toward the point of the explosion. I swam a little 
more and then came out of the water to try to get to the mo¬ 
torboat across the rocks and so more quickly. I was running 
bent over, with my head down. And all of a sudden I saw the 
motorboat leaving. The plan stipulated that it would wait for 
me five minutes, no more. Still I didn’t despair. 

The plan had an alternative: if the motorboat hadn’t been 
able to come, or else if it had to leave without picking me up, 
I was to hide in the rocks until late that night. There were sev¬ 
eral cars that would wait for me in different places, and after 
leaving my hiding place in the dark, I would have been able to 
reach one of them. Of course it would be uncomfortable, 
since all I had on was a pair of bathing trunks, but that wasn’t 
too much of a problem. So I hid inside a little cave and stayed 
there for two hours. Two hours during which the coastal and 
military police kept looking for me all over. And it was during 
those two hours that I became optimistic—so far they hadn’t 
found me, and so they’d never find me. 

Then something happened that I can only call fate. Just 
above the cave w'here I was hiding, there w'as standing a police 
officer. I heard him say, “He’s not here, let’s take a look 
behind those bushes and then look for him on the other side.” 
But just as he was starting toward the other side, he fell back¬ 
ward and ... he fell right in front of me. He saw' me right 
away. In a split second they were all on top of me. Hitting me, 
asking me, “Who are you? Where are the others? Who was it 
got away in the motorboat? Talk, talk!” And blows . . . and 
more blow's ... I pretended to be a mute and didn’t answer 
any of their questions. . . . Then they took me up to the road 
and shoved me in a car and . . . 

Alexandras Panagoulis 


O.F.: Don’t go on, if you don’t want to. That’s enough. 

a.p.: Why? In the car, I was about to say, there was the minister of 
public security, General Zevelekos, and Colonel Ladas. A cop 
who’d known me for some time exclaimed, “It’s Panagoulis!” 
So the officers thought I was my brother George. Captain 
George Panagoulis, whom they’d been looking for since 
August 1967. They started yelling, “We’ve got you, Captain! 
Now we’re going to kill you!” It would take another thirty 
hours before they realized their mistake. During those thirty 
hours they used on me all the most brutal, most infamous in¬ 
terrogation methods. They said to me, “We’ve arrested Alex¬ 
ander, in Salonika! And right now Alexander is suffering even 
more than you!” They also asked me about officers whom, 
naturally, I didn’t know. They asked me, for instance, about 
General Anghelis, who at that time was commander in chief 
of the armed forces. They wanted to know if he was involved 
in the plot and tortured me to find out. They were carried 
away by panic and did awful things to me, but their interroga¬ 
tion was anything but systematic—they were hysterical. When 
they finally understood that I was not George but Alexander, 
they became so ferocious they doubled the tortures. 

O.F.: Don’t think about it any more, Alekos. Maybe it’s dreadful to 
say so, but that’s the way it had to be. Because today you’re a 
symbol to whom even your enemies look with admiration and 

a.p. : You sound to me like the ones who say, “Alekos, you’re a 
hero!” I’m not a hero and I don’t feel like a hero. I’m not a 
symbol and I don’t feel like a symbol. I’m not a leader and I 
don’t want to be a leader. And this popularity embarrasses me. 
It disturbs me. I’ve already told you: I’m not the only Greek 
who suffered in prison. I swear to you, I’m only able to toler¬ 
ate this popularity when I think that it helps as much as my 
death sentence would have helped. And so I look on it with 
the same detachment with which I accepted my death sen¬ 
tence. But, even putting it that way, it’s a very uncomfortable 
popularity. It’s unpleasant. When you all ask me “What will 
you do, Alekos?” I feel like fainting. What should I do so as not 
to disappoint you? I’m so afraid of disappointing all of you 



who see so many things in me! Oh, if only you could succeed 
in not seeing me as a hero! If only you could succeed in seeing 
in me only a man! 

O.F.: Alekos, what does it mean to be a man? 

A.P. : It means to have courage, to have dignity. It means to believe 
in humanity. It means to love without allowing love to be¬ 
come an anchor. It means to struggle. And to win. Look, 
more or less what Kipling says in that poem entitled “If.” And 
for you, what is a man? 

O.F.: Td say that a man is what you are, Alekos. 

Athens , September 1973 

tstttute of IntcgraA Studies 
765 Ashbury 

Ban Francisco, CA_ 94117 

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"One of the most gifted 
and determined interviewers alive... 

"Fallaci infiltrates, goes behind the lines and sketches from 
life . . . [The book] is a splendid example of that most 
self-effacing of all arts - the art of the interview." 

-Washington Post 

"Fallaci brings a formidable amount of background 
knowledge to each interview. She knows her history." 

— Chicago Tribune 

"If you've been wondering why the world is such a mess, 
you will get many enlightening answers from these classic 
self-portraits of the people who run it." - Playboy* 

"A truly sensational collection of Fallaci's championship 
bouts with the great.. . It's often devastating, never less 
than totally absorbing." -Cosmopolitan 

ISBN 0-395-25223-7